My granddaughter, Cynthia, is a blogger. She has opinions about a lot of things and she is also an I-can’t-help-myself writer. I am one of these, too, but for years, I wrote only to myself – journaling they call it. In addition to sharing her very intelligent thoughts and well-considered opinions, Cynthia likes to promote stimulating conversations by throwing out controversial statements or asking deep questions. Sometimes she does this on her blog, sometimes on Facebook. I love it when she does this. In a way it is like throwing a rat into a ring with a bunch of cats and then standing back to see how the rat…and the cats…behave. The discussions have been known to get a little snarly but mostly they are respectful. I like to get in on the discussions now and then. I asked her once if she minded when I post a comment and she said that she was okay with it. I don’t know that she would feel safe saying, “No, Grandma, butt out!” but I decided to take her approval at face value.
Today she posted this challenging question: “Which is more powerful: to control others but not self, or to control the self but not others.” I have a lot of opinions about the idea about control and started to write my thoughts, but then I thought to blog about it instead. I don’t like Facebook comments that are eight paragraphs long.
So, here goes:
First of all, what power are we talking about? There is a power that one has over someone or something besides themselves. To have power over a thing is evident when one can move it or melt it or mix it up. Power over a person, however, is an illusion. You can force a person to move if you are stronger than they are. You may be able to force them to say something, like “I’m sorry” or “You are right”. But you can’t force them to believe what you are telling them or to think or feel a certain way. That place where we think, feel and believe is hidden from others. Sometimes you can “read” another person, but to say that you know what they think, feel and believe is in your own head. A good guess, perhaps, but nothing more. Brainwashing may be an exception but people have been known to “fake it” when they have reason to do so.
There is another kind of power and that is the power over oneself. I have the power to decide how to treat my body, how to manage my environment, what to do with my life over all. I can be over-powered by something or someone stronger than I, but that is about my physical self. As for my inner, hidden, self, I have the power to choose what thoughts I will allow to occupy my mind at any given moment. I can choose how to react to something in my environment. If you criticize me or threaten me I can decide how to respond: I can to yell, run, punch you in the face, or criticize you right back. I can choose to tell you how I feel or say nothing and just pretend you didn’t hurt my feelings. It may take some self-talk but I can even choose not to be hurt by what you say. When I take control over what I think, I am exerting an amazing amount of power. And it is very interesting that often, when I do this, my feelings and behaviors follow. For example, I may choose to forgive you and as I do, my feelings for you become warmer and I start to act more kindly toward you.
So without actually controlling another person, one can exert an amazing amount of power.