People talk about those who like to be in control, as if it’s a negative trait. “Oh, she doesn’t like going to the doctor, because she likes to be in control.” Etc.
You know what? Being in control is great. Most of the good things in life are attributed to being in control. If you’re in control of your finances you’re more likely to save up and invest and afford that education, or fabulous vacation or holiday home you have been wanting. If you’re in control of your home environment you’re more likely to live in orderly surroundings and spend less time searching for lost socks, keys, and late bills.
If you’re in control of your fertility, you’re more likely to have children when you want and stop at the number that is good for you; or, conversely, to not have children if it turns out that that’s the best path for you. If you’re in control of your fertility, you also have the ability to be in control of the other things in life, like education and career development, which lead to a better standard of living.
If you’re in control of your emotional responses you are less likely to alienate people by lashing out at them over minor slights, or the day you’re having that is no one’s fault.
If you’re in control of your schedule you can decide how much time to devote to fun, exercise, personal improvement, leisure, family, and just staring into space.
The history of exploitation is the history of one person seizing control over the time and productive effort of another, whether it be through outright slavery, an unequal partnership, or exploitive wage practices.
Physical control is also important. If you’re in control of your car you’re less likely to drive off a cliff. If you’re in control of your bowels you’re less likely to have an embarrassing incident that results in the need to change clothes. If you ride a bike, or ski, being in control means you’re less likely to have a disastrous wipeout.
It’s too easy to come up with one-size-fits-all homilies to provide generalized guidance for life. We give control a bad rap because sometimes people try to control the wrong things.
They try to mold their children into the person they want them to be instead of encouraging them to be the best selves they were meant to be. They try to control the people around them as a sop against their own anxiety, whether it be about food, body image, safety and security or some completely imagined terror. They try to manage other people into doing the work they should do, whether it’s actual physical work or the emotional work of dealing with their own baggage.
The villain in these scenarios isn’t control, it’s applying control to the wrong object. Control yourself, control your body, control your mountain bike. Manage your money, your reputation and your emotional responses. This is all good. Once you have your own stuff under control, let your kids be who they are, let your friends eat Oreos if it makes them happy, and accept that people you love will, from time to time, enter into situations that might put them in harm’s way.
Years ago I had a boss who gave the advice: “control the things you can control.” My life so far has been an exercise in discovering the true and effective boundaries of the things I can control. The more I let go of the things that fall outside that category the better life goes for me.