Control, Responsibility And The Disconnect Between Them

Most people desire control without the responsibility that comes with it.

I had a conversation with my Dad yesterday and he said something, he stated an observation, one that I’ve known for a while, but never heard it articulated so clearly. I can’t recall the words exactly, but here it is, paraphrased:

More control means more responsibility.

Now I’ve known for two decades that I don’t want control over other people, places or things. I don’t want to control anyone or anything. I’ve been there. I’ve tried to control things and my experience was frustrating, disappointing, unnerving. I have a hard enough time just controlling my own body. I think I might have control over 1% of my body, and I’m pretty sure that if I had more control, that I’d screw things up pretty good.

I see control as an illusion. I recognize, from years of reading science, that we’re just a buzzing collection of atoms and subatomic particles that no one has ever really seen directly, with their eyes. We can infer their existence through the fantastic instruments we have built, like particle accelerators and scanning tunneling electron microscopes, but we can’t see them with our own eyes. I don’t think we’re built for that, and there is a really good reason for our limitations of perception. Our perception of reality is limited so that we can survive.

Therefore, our perception and the limits of our control is a requirement for our survival. If we needed greater capacity for control, we’d have it for our survival. The process of natural selection would require greater control of our surroundings. But judging by the 7 billion people on the planet, we don’t need more control than we already have. And with each and every headline about climate change, a term that is now slowly morphing into “climate crisis”, we are learning that we’re screwing things up pretty badly.

As much as you or I may desire control, we almost certainly don’t want the responsibility that comes with control. If I have control over someone else and they are injured as a result of my control, do I want that kind of responsibility? I’d say, “no”. Yet, there are millions of Americans who find that their desire for control is justified when it comes to other countries, other families, other people, and other things. And when things go wrong? You should see all the deflection going on.

“It was their fault. If only they had listened to us, they would not be suffering now.”

“Yes, I had control over the situation, but I could not anticipate every contingency. That’s why those other people are suffering.”

“I thought I had control over the ecosystem that we live in, but I could not anticipate that the use of carbon-based fuels would result in a sea level rise above 3 meters around the world. Seriously, who could have known?”

“Who knew that if you use insecticide on farms, that you’d be wiping out all bees? We didn’t do that.”

“Wow. If you mess with the economies and politics of South American countries, those people will actually try to come here and make America their home. We just didn’t see that coming.”

For most of us, well, all of us, we’re just not capable of seeing all of the unintended effects of our efforts. We can’t see beforehand that if we squeeze one area of our lives, something else bulges on the other side of our hands and we can’t control that bulge. And when other people notice our error, we usually deflect as an outfielder looks at his glove after he drops a fly ball.

So I avoid control as much as possible. Yes, I do set limits whenever and wherever I can, like boundaries with other people. But I’m a bit of an optimist when I do. I set limits with others in such a way that I have a reasonable expectation for compliance. But I don’t punish others for failing to comply, I just move the limit or take some other action that is within my control to find a place of comfort. I don’t rely upon or expect others to control themselves at my behest.

Otherwise, I avoid any attempts to control others because I don’t want that much responsibility. I make my desires known and then wait and see what happens. If people grant my requests, great, if not, I need to work something out. I need to negotiate. I need to change my own behavior. That is the first place I go when it comes to control. I change myself, first. Then I wait and see what happens next with everything else.

I’m agnostic about everything. And I really mean, everything. The reason I take this position has something to do with our composition. We are literally, a buzzing cloud of particles, particles that no one has ever really seen with their own eyes. And those particles sometimes act like waves. And our best guess as to how those waves or particles operate is called quantum mechanics, a field of science that has far more to do with uncertainty that certainty. Quantum mechanics is about probabilities, not certainties.

And if our best guess as to how the world operates is based on probabilities, then there really is no hope of complete control. My tiny little brain is simply no match for the universe. Better, I think, I should just sit back and enjoy the show as much and for as long as possible.

I keep an open mind, avoid making predictions, and wait to see what happens next. I surrender my desires for desire requires anticipation, and anticipation is a prediction, and I know just how bad I am at predictions. And that desire presumes control.

Years ago, I read this really cool article about where we get free will. Free will is the notion that we are free to decide what we want to do, given the choices available to us. In that article, scientists determined that if man has free will, he must get free will from the matter of which he is composed. Therefore, matter has free will, too. And with that realization, there is no hope of control, for matter, no matter how hard we try, matter will not do exactly what we want it to do. Whatever is composed must decompose.

Even if we observe compliance from matter for some time, we are not able to anticipate every contingency. Nor do we want to take responsibility for having that much control. So whenever I hear of someone talking about how they’re going to make someone or something else change, I ask myself, “You ordered control. Do you want a side of responsibility with that?” Probably not.

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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