Is the divisiveness we’re experiencing throughout the world the result of fear or arrogance? The short answer is: it doesn’t matter, the focus is the same. Both are about control.
Fear is about the loss of control. Those who have been in the majority and consequently held power, see the inevitable loss of majority status as a threat to their power and, ultimately, their ability to control the future.
Feelings of superiority (arrogance) encourage those possessing these feelings to seek control over the decision-making of those whom they consider inferior. After all, shouldn’t superior knowledge be preferred over less well-educated, less well-informed thought processes?
Illusion of control
Control is an illusion. We cannot control anything. We can influence, but not control. If you doubt that, recall times when your plans were disrupted, if not destroyed, by circumstances beyond your control. Indeed, the only “control” you had in these situations was over how you dealt with the situation you were facing.
Influence is a different matter. You have the ability to influence the thinking of others regardless of whether you are in the majority or not. Take a moment and recall situations in which you were in the minority, if not alone, yet were able to get others to embrace your thinking. That’s influence, not control.
What does it take to gain influence? Confidence.
One of the ways to define confidence is conviction in your beliefs accompanied by openness to the possibility that there are better ways of dealing with the situation you’re facing. Confidence is the combination of conviction and openness.
Conviction indicates a lack of fear; openness a lack of arrogance.
What does this mean for you and the kids in your life?
If you find yourself consistently wanting to control situations, or others’ behavior, and you want to avoid the fear, anxiety and frustration that the desire to control engenders, perform these two tasks daily until they become your default way of behaving.
- Each morning, shortly after rising, remind yourself that control is an illusion and that your goal is to be true to your conviction while remaining open to better alternatives.
- Each evening, just before retiring, recall the day’s activities making note of when you were successful in setting aside your desire to control. Also note what you’d do differently in those instances when you attempted to control.
If you already prefer influence over control, I’m happy for you. Your life is already easier and more enjoyable than those who seek control. My advice to you lies in the realm of how to deal with those who seek control. When encountering someone who desires control, use questions like these:
- What would happen if…?
- How would that work [in this situation]?
- Is it possible to…?
- How would you react if someone demanded that you…?
These questions are designed to get the person to rethink their position without indicating that there is anything wrong with their thinking.
Using these questions enables you to challenge their thinking without creating resistance or defensiveness. It’s how you can influence others’ thinking, not control it. It’s also why influence is possible whether you’re in the majority or the minority.
These questions will work in the vast majority of interactions with those who desire control, but not with those who seek power for self-aggrandizement. Those who seek power for the sole purpose of imposing their will on others, will not be dissuaded by the questions listed above.
In order to prevent them from gaining the power they seek, you need to develop alliances that enable you, as a group, to thwart their efforts. In order for this approach to succeed, you need the group to remain committed to persevere in the group’s efforts as long as it takes to put an end to the threat of control by someone whose only interest is in themselves. It’s arduous work, but less so than wresting control from someone who has gained the power they sought.
For our kids
When you observe kids trying to control situations, or the behavior of others, share with them the fact that control is an illusion, that we can’t control anything. Offer them insights into how influence is more powerful than control, then share with them the questions outlined above so that they can gain experience influencing instead of controlling.
Let them know that this approach works well when people are acting from fear or feelings of superiority, not from the desire for power. Teach them that, when faced with someone who desires power for the sheer delight of exercising that power, they need to create alliances to prevent that person from attaining the power they desire.
Make them aware, upfront, that is takes consistent and persistent effort over a period of time to thwart a person’s attempt for power, but the work is far less than what will be required to wrest power back from that person once they have it.
Armed with this knowledge, the kids in your life can minimize the divisiveness they experience in their lives…something many of us wish we were experiencing now.
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