Psychologists say that control is one of those fundamental human needs, right up there with affection and connection to others. We start grasping for it as soon as we can move. We crawl away, then we walk away. We grab for what we want and hold on tight. We want what we want when we want it.
Much of what we do is to try to take control. We do our best to control our surroundings, putting locks on doors and windows and organizing our spaces so we feel in control. We put up boundaries to keep certain people out or to try to keep others in. We have rules and regulations to give us a sense that somehow, in some small way we are in control of our situations and our lives. Maybe control gives us a sense of power. Perhaps we do it because we are afraid of the unknown and taking control of a situation, even in some tiny measure, eases our fears and gives us the illusion of security.
Sometimes, we carry this desire for influence and control so far we make the mistake of thinking that we can control others. That way lies disaster. We have no control over others. The only thing we can ever control is ourselves. And often, I think, we forget the fact that we have choices to make.
I was relaying a story recently to someone who then "jokingly" accused me of being a control freak. I admit that it brought me up short. Was I being a control freak? Was I trying to impose my values or ways of doing something on someone else? It's easy to become confused. Where does my right end and someone else's begin? That's when I came back to the reality of choice.
If I set a boundary that someone else doesn't like, rather than make a choice on their own and take responsibility for that choice, it's much easier for them to simply blame me by calling me a control freak. Does that make me one? No. It makes me a person who has made a choice about my own life, and how I will choose to let others influence it (or in some cases, jerk it around.) Others may not like my choices. That is their prerogative. But their like or dislike does not have to mean that I am wrong or that I need to change.
As I reflected on this encounter, I reviewed my past interactions with this person and my knowledge of their past behaviors. I have made choices this person has not liked. I have made decisions that this person did not agree with. I have done things that this person has not wanted me to do. I begin to suspect that perhaps I am not the person with the control issue here. Perhaps it is this other person telling me, in a very roundabout way, that they want me to behave differently than I do. Perhaps.
Returning to campus has certainly put this issue in my face in inescapable ways these past few weeks. It's easy to get cranky when other people don't behave in the ways that we want them to. It's easy to start down the path of "they really shouldn't do that" or "they really ought to do this." And, I admit to having to give myself a serious talking-to on one occasion since returning as I found myself falling into the trap of this blame game. But that 'talking to' resulted in me reminding myself of the truth of this one fact. I am in charge of me and I am the only person that I can control. Therefore, I am the person that I am responsible for. My behaviors, my words, my choices.
I've chosen to lift today's image from:
5 hours ago