Impatience and Control

Do you think it fair to say that some have more of a controlling bent than others?

There are the expressions “control junkie” and “control freak” which are in common parlance. Some people need to have the illusion that they are in control of their lives, so they seek to administer this control, sometimes to force it. They don’t like it when things do not go according to their will or their suppositions about how things are meant to pan out. It is possible to control certain aspects, but not others and certainly not everything. Some therefore seek to have life on their own terms, terms which they alone dictate. They may boss others around and otherwise manipulate them to fit with THE plan, which really means their plan. When things don’t fit impatience and frustration can follow. An unmet ambition can piss certain types of people off and in a major way.

The thing is at least to my experience, life has a few surprises up its sleeves. From time to time it lays down a joker or throws a curve ball. When this happens, you have two basic options; throw a hissy fit and freak out or go with the flow, man. This loss of imagined control can be very unsettling. Many try to micro-manage their entire lives, which must be exhausting.

There are some things which are beyond our control, our direct personal influence. No matter how impatient we get they simply are not tractable to our efforts. The more we try to bring them under our control the more frustrated we become.  We might adopt an ʾIn shāʾa llāh attitude, but we cannot leave everything up to another being, we have to do somethings, to give God something to work with so to speak.

There is a balance in doing what we are realistically able to do and that which is beyond our influence and capabilities. I am going to start into this theme a little.

Having cued this up here are some questions:

On the scale of totally laid back and going with the flow to an out-and-out control freak, where do I find myself?

Am I to the left, to the right or somewhere in the middle?

Where would others put me on this scale?

In reality, do I have both tendencies which surface according to circumstance?

Can Control Cause Chaos?

Many people are control junkies, control freaks and exhibit controlling behaviours. In some cases, this can be out and out manipulation. Being fearful they seek ever tighter control. Unfortunately, this can be a bit like squeezing a zit. The more you squeeze the zit, the more likely it is to pop. So if you get pus and blood on your hands, you have only yourself to blame. Not an entirely attractive metaphor, I know, but things which are visceral can work. Once the pus is out you can’t put it back in.

Having cued this up:

Have I ever tried to control things to such an extent that they became chaotic?

Have I ever experienced loss caused by my controlling behaviours?

Would the entire universe collapse under its own gravity, if I eased up on my controlling behaviours?

The Say-so

If you have power and are in power then you have the say-so over various things including access to and use of resources, one of these being of course, money. Holding the purse strings allows some measure of control over how things are spent / used. It means that you can determine the direction, it may not mean that you set it, but you can choose between. You have the say-so. What you want to happen generally does, in the spheres of human endeavour. Try as we might we cannot control nature nor the workings of the universe, but there are many things we can. Some like to have this say-so. Some are control-freaks and seek to micro-manage things and others. This control can be strategic in the sense of there being some strategy or other which may or may not require the use of manipulation. We have heard recently of people, unwilling to provide sexual favours, being black-listed in Hollywood.

There is an inherent problem with “control”. In that the tighter you squeeze and enforce control, the more likely is it to go wrong. That which one controls might be thought of as the system, squeeze the system too tightly and the system leaks. That which is outside the system is no longer susceptible to the control parameters. You may control the system but not that which has leaked out. One has the say-so over the system. If you are a fisherman, you have a net and in that net, you have fish, some fish escape the net. If they are people, they are what Dōgen Zenji calls tōdatsu. Once the fish has slipped the net, there is no control over it.

I personally am unsure as to why some are so obsessed with having the say-so over the lives of others. It is not something which appeals to me, yet I can see this at work. Maybe they like moving pawns around on the chessboard of life? Who can say? There are a few who simply cannot resist trying to interfere in the lives of others. Perhaps this allows them, by being busy, to not examine their own lives. This meddling in the affairs of others is a pass-time, irresistible to some. For some reason they imagine that they know what the lives of others need, often without asking, perhaps God tells them.

Once something has been squeezed out of the system it is of no concern to the system, unless the system needs it back, for whatever reason. A fish will not be overly keen on jumping back into the net. When one is outside a system, one no longer has sight of what goes on in the system nor of where its control parameters are at. The system does its thing and the fish simply swims. What goes on in the system is of little concern to the fish, that is system business and not fish business. However, the system may still wish to exert control over the fish. Even though it has been squeezed out of the net. The system does not want to let go of the fish, it still seeks to control it.

People like to have the say-so in order to express their will and if necessary (as it appears to them) inflict it upon others. They want the system to do their bidding. They might have control parameters like access to movie roles, salary and publicity. The power of these parameters might be high, as levers they can be effective, they may not however be universal. This my will be done, is not uncommon amongst control-junkies and control-freaks. In this respect manipulation can have unforeseen consequences, which includes a loss of fish. You may have plenty of fish, but not the fish you want but as they say, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Control can and does lead to relationship breakdown, it gets hard to breathe in a net, as the control is tightened. Many a control-freak has driven a partner or potential partner away.

This will thing is weird…it is about control and say-so…it is not about freedom. Why are people so very scared that they feel they have to try to control everything?


Control or Abandon?

We’re only making plans for Nigel
We only want what’s best for him
We’re only making plans for Nigel
Nigel just needs that helping hand


Some are forever dabbling in the lives of others, they seek to control them and get them to fit to their plans, their will. On occasion this can go badly wrong, yet many do not learn from this lesson. They try the same kind of thing over and over. Few ask Nigel what he wants, they decide for him. They may assume that they know what Nigel wants, their clairvoyance is obviously accurate. I think it fair to say that controlling behaviour is not rare. Some are more control junkie than others. Control is often about power over or about avoiding that which makes one fearful. Control of others can be out and out manipulation, which is the antithesis of freedom.

It is said that the greatest act of the warrior is to shift from control to abandon.

In this one abandons oneself to one’s fate. It also means abandoning the self. One eases up on controlling others and is aware of anything which impacts on liberty, such as the controlling behaviours of others. If one senses an incoming Nigel situation, it is best to walk. It means not directing life, rather flowing with it. If there must be a hand on the tiller at all, it is a very light touch. Needless to say, this surrendering to fate is not to the taste of many. Most like the idea that they have at least some control over their lives and some do indeed get a kick out of manipulating others.

The warrior looks to see what the universe is showing him and does not seek to impose his will nor inflict it on others. And in controlling nothing he finds freedom and equanimity. To let go of control and controlling is to kill worry stone dead, which is relaxing. And strangely, a relaxed being makes better decisions than a tense one.

It is said that the greatest act of the warrior is to shift from control to abandon.


Last night we watched a dating show “First Dates”, it can be funny. In the episode last night, a woman of a certain age, who from what she said was keen to have children, met what seemed to be a nice, self-aware man. She was looking for love, allegedly. It all seemed to be going well, until the man announced that he had had a vasectomy. He was open to a reversal and to increasing his family. But that was the end of that. This woman had a red line. Bearing in mind the previous post, it was my estimation that he would have had a lot of work on his hands, but he was keen to explore further, she not. In being overly picky she missed out. This little vignette plays out in differing forms all over the place.

Since quitting Imperial ~11 years ago, I have had less than a handful of job interviews. There are preconditions which I fail to meet. In that time, I have had two job offers, one which I pulled out of and the other I resigned from after a few weeks because, as far as I can tell, I wasn’t working out for them. These preconditions specify various things and unless you meet the spec. that is it. There are a lot of preconditions in the minds of man. It is as if there is a criterion spreadsheet continually active. I have only one criterion; as low a knobhead number density as is possible. I don’t care about salary or status. This precondition is surprisingly hard to meet.

Recently I suggested to someone I once knew a little, that I am unemployable. He wasn’t convinced. But that is what the experimental evidence strongly suggests. Besides I am now more than a little feral these days. I may not look feral, especially when suited and booted, but I am. I take a few sniffs of the air and then I am off. Despite my nature, I still have ability.

This is all by the by, what I am getting at is this concept of precondition. If you notice it has a conditional sense, it therefore pertains to conditioning and conditioned things. These days criteria are important, if only in the minds of men. I’ll hypothesise that because of criteria, people miss out on a whole bunch of stuff. Things that meet the criteria will have familiarity about them and some preconditioned idea of goals, such as the woman in the dating show. Goal blind, she missed; with white line fever, she failed to score.

It is related to guarantee and warranty, the prove it to me before I buy, mentality. With this brief illustration done, here are a few questions:

Have I ever let my preconditions stop me from doing something?

In over defining criteria have I missed what I actually needed?

Have I ever lost something or someone, because of my preconditions?

Have I something of the control junkie about me?

Am I overly picky?

The Mind of Another

If someone looks a bit like us, dresses a bit like us and talks a bit like us, there is a kind of assumption that they may think like us, well a bit anyway. The truth is we may never know what is going on in the mind of another. Many have bought a Prisoner T-shirt at Portmeirion, I am wearing one now. The extent to which the sentiment of the T-shirt is embodied, varies. I have earned this T-shirt. I did not simply buy it. We all make assumptions everyday of our lives, some are better than others. Many are “experts” on where someone else is coming from, but without knowing their influences. Needless to say, that vocalised expertise may not be all that good. When I was much younger, I was an avid watcher of Kung Fu, something which my parents scoffed at. It spoke to me and not to them, they would talk over it and this pissed me off. As it turned out, it had a hint of prophecy for me. Some of the things we are drawn to in childhood, can play out later in life, thematically if not verbatim.

It is a common “parlour game” to speculate on the motivations of others. I have, over the years, sat in many meetings and I am prepared to bet that few had little if any idea of my motivations or what was going on in Alan-world. These days my mind is largely silent so even that is unexpected. I do not try to be secretive, but to explain all the connections would take a very long time, which most people do not have. Insofar as I can tell, many is the time when people have thought that I am “on the same page” as them, when I am not in the same book or even in the same section of the library. People assume nevertheless.

“Use don’t know mind”, is the recommendation of Zen master Seung Sahn and this goes a long way to erasing preconceptions. Couple this with; “A warrior has nothing to defend” and you are on your way to understanding yourself and relating to people in a deeper more meaningful way. It takes a little time and effort. Which is better, to know it all already or to explore?

Have a think about it, do you really and have you ever, known accurately what is going on in the mind of another? Even the people we think we know have things we are unaware of. I personally have been surprised on many occasions by the things people do and how they behave. In some cases, I have been shocked. People do change in life, sometimes for the better but not always. If you are a control junkie, you may seek to control everything, sometimes it can be better to let things evolve and have a few surprises along the way. If you want to find out, then asking is better than assuming. Any scientist knows that one needs to check data. Our detectors can need recalibrating from time to time, and noise or mind-stuff, limits their accuracy.

The only safe assumption is that we can never fully know the mind of another. This is a good place to start.