The Ins and Outs of Control

Our Tesla has pretty awesome self steering options (and they get better with every over-the-air upgrade). At all times while the car is driving, you must have your hand firmly on the steering wheel or the car will beep at you and then pull over. So you sit in the drivers seat and you are aware of your position as “driver” and you have your hand on the steering wheel but if you instinctively try to steer (because that’s what driving usually requires), the steering wheel is resistant to your efforts. It is the strangest sensation and, initially, is slightly terrifying. Of course, if you fight hard enough the car accepts your dominance and beeps to let you know that you are in charge. My mounting panic, though, at that sense of resistance from the steering wheel applies to other areas of life too.

Over the Christmas period, I heard a story about a psychologist who once gave a talk at a workplace. This psychologist said that we each are surrounded by two concentric circles. The inner circle contains the things which impact us directly and (some of which) we have control over. The outer circle contains things which we have no control over and which do not impact us as directly. Worrying about the outer circle too much is unhealthy and unhelpful. Those weren’t the exact words that were used and the person was remembering the talk from many years ago so there may have been something lost in translation.

But I get it. Sometimes, it is okay (in fact it has been proved to be safer) to let the Tesla drive. Worrying too much about what the government is doing or is not doing or worrying too much about the bush fires which aren’t directly effecting me is probably unhealthy. It is probably better for me and for my family if I let it go a bit, accept that I am powerless in that sphere at this point in time. It is better for me to look after my family than get too stressed about those things in the outer circle.

Maybe this is why I take some pleasure in cooking and considering the dietary requirements of my family. I can educate myself on the health impacts and the social and ethical ramifications. I can select the food and its origins, I can decide whether we stick with known favourites or explore new options. It is a small area of life that I can control and, even although it can be tedious and exhausting and frustrating, I relish deciding what we eat.

Control is a funny thing though. When you start focusing on it, you realise how little any of us really control. You can’t control other drivers on the road. You can’t control anybody else’s behaviour except your own. You have limited control of your health and the health of your loved ones. You can’t control the weather or the economy. You can (to a degree) control what you spend but have limited control over what you earn.

It seems to me that what you are really controlling, in that inner circle, is the way you react to all the outward stimuli. It is self-control. It is a pas de deux of logic and emotion. It is a finely choreographed performance. It is managing your inside self so that your outside self can continue as serenely as possible.

Is this right? Is even the humblest life a kind of Masquerade Ball?

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