Monday, May 24, 2010

Power/Control - Redux

Later in this article, I will use the term “myth”. In an attempt to mitigate unnecessary hypertension in some readers, allow me to clarify the use of this word. Myth is sometimes used to denote an untrue idea that is believed to be a fact; I do not intend to imply that meaning. Merriam-Webster defines it as “usually a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon”. For those wanting greater clarification, I refer you to the Wikipedia citation for “mythology”.

In an earlier post (Anger management or Power/Control) I stated my belief that all of us, from birth ‘till death, want more power and control over our environment. I believe this is an inborn instinct, neither good nor bad. I'd like to say a bit more about it here.

This instinct will become problematic if one develops an inflated or grandiose sense of how much power and control we have.

Example: Let’s agree that I believe that I can bench-press 300 pounds.
I position myself on a bench under a 300 pound bar and push – push – push…. nothing. Probably at first, I’m confused because I genuinely believe I can do this feat. If I’m really stubborn (let’s be honest… I am stubborn), I try again. Push - push – push… PAIN! OUCH! I’ve injured myself. The truth is that I could only bench-press 150 pounds. I had unrealistic expectations of how much power I had; now I will experience the consequences of my unrealistic beliefs. The consequences may last for months or a lifetime; all because my expectations were unrealistic.

I challenge you to make a list of those things you believe you have power/control of. Use a 0 – 5 scale. Where 0 = No Control and 5 = complete control. Here are some sample questions:

My personal hygiene:
My body’s health:
My employment:
My finances:
Other’s behavior:
My spending:
My thinking:
My feelings:
The weather:
Other’s thoughts about me:
My children:
My family:
What time I get to work:
What time I leave work.
Any addictive or compulsive behavior:

The truth is, we have very little power/control over most of these. Probably if you are anything like me (and God help you if you are) you’d like to have much more control over these and more.

As far as I know, humans and other animals (dogs for one) have always expressed their impulse to have more power/control. Let’s examine how deeply ingrained this power /control is.

Let’s examine the MYTH of creation according to the book of Genesis.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

PRETTY SWEET! How ideal!

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground-- then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. …The name of the first [river] is Pishon; it is the one which flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.

Oh man… does it get any better? It’s like winning the lottery!

…The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."

Uhhh… OK… I guess… (wink – wink) Gee, I’m curious about that tree.

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man."

Oh baby – you are CUTE!!

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made.

Serpent? How’d the Serpent get into this? What is the Serpent? Is it that part of us, that though we have everything we need – and more, still wants more? Is it that instinctual aspect that instills unrealistic beliefs about how much power/control we have or “should” have?

He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?"

Have you heard a voice in your own thinking that says something like, “You deserve a better car – look at the nice car your neighbor has. You’re better than your neighbor; you DESERVE a NICER CAR – and a VACATION – and A BIGGER HOUSE”!

And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

This is where like Adam & Eve, we want more. We want what rich people have. We aren’t happy with what we have. We want more. We believe we’re ENTITLED to more. It’s unfair if we don’t have more

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

I hate it when this happens in my own life; what about you? This is when I’ve tried to express the control I think I have – and find out, that again, I overestimated my control/power. In my profession, we call it ego deflation. When it happens frequently (as it does with me) one can become accustomed to it and can make corrections of my expectations. Some, who cannot accept that they don’t have as much power/control as they thought, may become very frustrated, in more pronounced situations, they can even develop depression.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?"

BUSTED! We’ve all experienced this. Not only has our ego been deflated which is demoralizing and painful, but it’s become public knowledge! The narrative speaks of what happens when the naked truth is known about us. We fear it. We try to hide it by fabricating stories or padding our resume’… we thought we could get away with it… we thought… that’s the problem we thought incorrectly. We overestimated our ability. We spent too much – lifted too much – ate too much – worked too much. Some part of us said, “Go ahead, no one will ever find out.” WRONG!

Now come the consequences…

To the woman he said, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, …cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return." …Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever" -- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man.

So, you see, that far before the advent of modern psychology, some would say from the beginning, the impulse has been present.

Is this impulse a “bad” thing? No.
Actually, through repeated iterations of this motif, we grow in knowledge and hopefully we grow in wisdom about what we do and don’t have control/power over. We have opportunities to see it daily. This same thing can be witnessed when a parent tells a toddler, “You can eat in the kitchen but don’t bring food in the living room” … predictably the child will knowing encroach into the living room. They are enacting the impulse that hopefully develops awareness.

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