Like attachment to recognition, attachment to control begins early in life. When a young child throws a tantrum, he or she is demonstrating this natural impulse in its unadulterated form. The child wants something—maybe a new toy or to do something fun—but the adults are not cooperating. So, the child cries and screams, and maybe even kicking and punching. In the child’s mind, they think, “If I make enough noise and cause enough trouble, they have to give me what I want!” It’s almost like they are punishing others, in their own childish way, for not cooperating.
Of course, a good parent will not indulge the child for fear of spoiling the child. The tantrum ultimately has the opposite effect because the adult must maintain authority in the situation, so the parent’s “no” becomes even more emphatic. In this way, the control impulse is brought into submission as we grow up and learn the rules of socialization, which teach us that good boys and girls must ask politely and behave well if they want to receive gifts and rewards.
Inside, We Are Still Two Years Old
Unfortunately, this impulse to get what we want never really goes away, however. All we do is learn to delay gratification of our desires, and our ways of acting out became more complicated. On the surface, as adults we wish to maintain the illusions that we have the upper hand, so it is rare for an adult to have a “meltdown” of the sort that children display. Even though we now know we must “earn” what we want in life, many situations arise when we think we are owed something or that getting what we want should be automatic.
For example, imagine that a young woman has gotten a promotion. She excitedly calls a friend to tell her about it. The friend says, “That’s nice” and then moves on quickly to another subject. If she was expecting a greater expression of congratulations was in order, then the young woman will feel some anger. Depending on her level of maturity, she may let go of that anger easily, or she may hold it against the friend, thinking a good friend would have responded better. In that way, the friendship becomes compromised, all because of one friend’s desire to control the behavior of the other.
Adults usually don’t throw fits like two-year-olds, but they do throw tantrums of their own kind. Instead of laying down on the floor, these tantrums manifest through insulting remarks, social ostracizing, and other methods of getting people to do what we want them to do.
Everyday Mind ControlOur need to control others usually begins with the word “should.” “She should have said thank you.” “He should behave more humbly toward me.” “She should dress better at this event.” All these are just thoughts in the mind, thoughts not rooted in the ultimate Truth of our being, and yet these are thoughts that negatively affect our relationships with others.
Many people are caught up in a similar impulse regarding religious and political beliefs, as well. In an unawakened state, people often think the whole world “should” have the same beliefs as them (since, after all, they believe that they are true), so they look down on those who don’t have the same beliefs. In the most extreme examples, people justify violent or abusive behavior against those who have different beliefs and cultures than us.
Dropping the Need to Control
Creating happier, more peaceful relationships with others means giving up the need to control others. When you think about it, all conflicts can be traced back to this attachment, whether between nations, couples, strangers, or friends. But how do we really drop this habit since it is so natural to the human state? Well, it’s just a matter of watching yourself well and curbing your responses to others in a mature way. When a “should” notion runs across your mind, don’t scold yourself for it, but instead watch where you take that idea. Maybe your idea about how others “should” be is relatively true given a particular circumstance. Maybe changing that person would make life better or safer for everyone. But where does that “should” statement lead you? Does it lead you to love someone more or to love them less?
The usual response when we don’t get what we want from others is to love less; we withdraw affection, try to force an improvement, or seek to punish them in some way. A better way is to love them anyway without forcing our “shoulds” upon them. This means acknowledging that other people’s choices are their own and that our business in relationship to them is only to love them, not to fix them or to make them see the errors of their ways. If their behaviors are destructive in any way, the Tao will show them this in due time; that is not our job. Your mission here is only to love, and dropping your attachment to control is easy if you keep that thought always in your mind.