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Is It Wrong to Want Control?

In my last post—We are Adam Lanza—I made the point that “we as a society are obsessed with the illusion of control, and when tragedy strikes, we’re more interested in trying to restore that illusion than in honestly assessing and dealing with the problem.” In response to that point, some people have asked, “Is it wrong to want control?”

That’s a good question, and it’s the subject of this post.

The desire for control is a natural phenomenon. Our mind is constantly taking in data through our five senses, filtering through that information, trying to make sense of the world around us. When we are unable to make sense of our world, or when our world goes into a state of chaos, we feel anxious and seek to bring order to that chaos. Taking it a step further, when our world becomes so chaotic that we feel personally threatened, fear kicks in, triggering the flow of adrenaline, setting off our fight-or-flight survival instinct.

Therefore, our desire for control—our desire to understand our environment and feel safe in it—is normal, which is why we appreciate the joke about the two men in the woods being chased by a bear. You’ve heard that joke, right? Two men are in the woods when they stumble upon a bear. Instinctively they turn and run. As they’re running away from the bear one man yells to the other, “Why are we running? We can’t outrun a bear?” Without looking back, the second man responds, “It’s not the bear I’m trying to outrun!”

The joke works because, in a humorous way, it brings to light a dark truth that we can relate to, that in life-threatening situations our natural instinct is to preserve self. That’s the natural order of things; that’s survival of the fittest. However, even though the fight-or-flight response is a natural and understandable reaction to an oncoming threat, it’s not our only option.

In the joke about the two men running from a bear, one man could have made the choice not to run; he could have sacrificed his life so that the other man could get away. Granted, that wouldn’t make for a funny joke, but it would make for an incredible story.

You see, in the face of fear we don’t have to run. We are not slaves to our primal urge to protect and preserve self. We can rise to something better, something that transcends the natural order of things. We can choose to love.

In a hectic, complicated world our illusion of control is constantly being threatened. Whether it’s an approaching super-storm, the effects of a sputtering economy, or the possibility of another terrorist attack, our lives are full of uncertainty. We can respond to each new threat with a fear-driven fight-or-flight mentality or we can be motivated by love. It’s our choice.

To be honest, I’m tired of living in fear—it’s exhausting. When you’re motivated by fear: you feel anxious; you worry; you have nightmares; you dread what might happen; you hold your possessions tightly, not wanting to lose what you have; and you’re always looking out for people that can hurt you.

In contrast, living in love is invigorating. When you’re motivated by love: you’re at peace; you have hope; you have dreams; you look forward to what will happen; you hold your possessions loosely, willing to share what you have; and you’re always looking out for people that you can help.

Being motivated by love sounds so much better than being motivated by fear, doesn’t it? So then why is it so hard? Why are we so anxious? Why do we spend so much time worrying about what might happen?

For love to overcome our fear, we have to believe that there’s more to life than our own survival, that we’re part of something greater than our own individual lives. We need to be willing to sacrifice self for a greater good. I like the way a friend of mine put it in response to my last post: “The pendulum of entitlement needs to swing back to what made this country great…God, country, family, self.”

In the end, the question “Is it wrong to want control?” may not be nearly as important as the questions “Why do we want control?” and “What do we do with the control we have?”

Are we motivated by fear…love…or something else?

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