I find it helpful, on occasion, to gently remind myself of the many things over which I have control. The results of that tender reminder are two-fold: 1) I expose my negativity as an obstacle to happiness; and 2) my outlook on the day ahead and life in general brightens. Reading back over the words I’ve just written, I realize I’ve attempted to record something quite simple in abstract terms. Maybe simple examples are better-suited to the discussion.
This morning, as I lost myself in online news and reading of the experiences of friends through their Facebook posts, my hot coffee cooled. I no longer had a warm, enticing mug of dark French roast coffee before me. In its place was a luke-warm, utterly unappealing beverage. When I realized I’d let the coffee cool, I felt annoyance rise in me. But, instead of allowing it to grow and influence the way I experience the rest of the day, I decided—I realized—I had the wherewithal to change it. So, I heated my coffee in the microwave. I had other choices; I could have poured it down the sink and made a fresh cup or I could have decided to switch gears completely and iced it down in a glass for an entirely different treat. I had control over that simple cup of coffee and I exercised control. Over the course of my life, my natural inclination in such a situation has evolved to this: I would have finished drinking the luke-warm mug and silently complained to myself with every sip. That attitude is lazy and crazy.
As I sat reflecting on the control over my emotional reaction to my cooling coffee, it occurred to me that I have similar control over myriad other experiences. Rather than let an automatic reaction take hold and blossom into a full-throated negative experience, I have the capacity to stop that response cold and turn it into something more appealing, more enjoyable. I tested my theory of self-control by reading some online attacks made against the “Hollywood elite” who have called for a general strike against Trump. The type of rants made against the “Hollywood elite” tend to make my blood boil because I find the attitudes of the ranters so thoroughly obnoxious. But, today, I read the rants and imagined myself sitting in front of the ranters, smiling at every new insult. I imagined myself looking into the minds of those hateful people and finding shards of their shattered dreams, dreams broken in the throes of their own tantrums. I looked deeper and found their stunted efforts to understand the world around them; I could see that their efforts to understand the world were thwarted by their undeveloped intellects. As I watched the pieces of scar tissue float through their brains, my anger at their idiocy morphed into pity, the sort of pity one experiences when one realizes an animal, too badly injured to be saved and rehabilitated, must be euthanized.
Following that bizarre trek off the track of normalcy, I returned to my quest for suitable examples of things over which I have control. I control the thermostat in my house; if I want it warmer, I simply turn it up. I control my schedule; sometimes I allow myself to think I am being controlled by it, but in fact I control it. So, too, do each of us. We have the capacity to control how we spend our days. I decide what to eat and when. I decide whether I want the room dark or light. I decide whether to stay indoors or wander out to face whatever experience the weather offers today. I decide how to react to the inauguration of Donald Trump and how to respond to his capacity to destroy what has taken seven generations to build.
Sometimes, when one exercises control over oneself, a gentle reining-in of unexpected anger and angst is appropriate. Other times, when one recognizes his ability to control how his rage and fear are channeled, one realizes his potential power as a component of the tools of radical change.
As you might have guessed, my carefully curated effort to see beyond my reactive self and to enable me to exercise greater control, thereby priming the pump to self-actualization, has gone slightly off the rails. I will return to the track after sufficient adrenaline has found its way back to the safety of the glands from whence it sprayed in high-offense mode.