Bruce's Blog


Out of Control - Part 1

May 13th, 2013

We have control over no one but ourselves--not others, not circumstances--only our responses and initiatives. That is enough responsibility.

Overestimating our control

Sometimes we overestimate the extent of our control over others and over circumstances. Wonder Woman, Messiah-complex--given enough time and resources we can change anything and anybody. The truth is all of our tools for controlling others

  • Guilt-tripping
  • Shaming
  • Manipulation
  • Bible-quoting
  • Hand-wringing
  • Exaggerating consequences
  • Ultimatums

and any others that you have mastered that I may not have even tried yet, ultimately fail.

People finally do what they understand to be the best or most expedient course of action. Or they do what they want and reflect on the consequences later.

Learning from others' experiences

How many other parents or grandparents wonder, as we do, why our off-spring can't learn from our hard lessons and take our advice, sparing themselves the grief we have already experienced? My sister and I spoke of this last week by phone and laughed simultaneously as we remembered that a generation ago, we were the ones who had to find out in our own way what hurt and what helped in our lives.

Concern and Advice

This does not mean that we can't express our concern for those who are dear to us. It doesn't mean that we should not offer "advice" when we are asked to do so. We probably should not, however, invest too much importance in whether the advice is accepted or acted upon. Our concern should be offered as just that with none of the above controlling tools to supplement the simple options.

We really cannot "make" anybody do anything. Why waste our time trying? Do we even really want that?

Circumstances beyond our control

Circumstances are similarly uncontrollable. Though sometimes we bring about good or bad circumstances by our own choices, just as often we are assailed or blessed by things unrelated to anything we do or don't. My friend's father died from emphysema without ever having smoked a cigarette.

Some of the people we meet at UCOM might be here because of poor choices. More are here because of circumstances that were much bigger than they--medical issues, death of a significant bread-winner, loss of a job. The joy of staff and volunteers at UCOM is that we are relieved of the responsibility of judging. Everyone is on equal footing. Everyone deserves our best on the basis of our shared humanity.


As long as we are intent on forcing people or circumstances to our will, we are doomed to a sense of failure and frustration. It doesn't matter how altruistic our motives.  It is only by relinquishing our need to be in control of people or outcomes that we find opportunities to be helpers. Identifying our goals and those of others, and then seeking solutions together brings relief--peace of mind and spirit. It is collaboration for the common good that results in lasting benefit. 

Please comment: Is this all pie-in-the-sky or is there some reality in peace and even solutions that come from relinquishing control? 

Can you tell briefly of a time that you found solutions for yourself or others either by taking or by relinquishing control of the outcomes?


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