Give up on the myth of control

Spectacular advances in knowledge over the last two hundred years have encouraged us to believe we know how the world works. We have taken our ever more sophisticated models as a proxy for reality. But those models are no longer predictive in the face of fundamental changes now underway. The world is once again exposing our ignorance – but unlike our forebears who had traditional ways to face the unknown, we now reach instinctively not for mystery but for control.


This is a natural psychological response to being overwhelmed. Western rationalism teaches us to objectify and standardise so we can treat similar phenomena as the same. But human beings do not take kindly to being treated that way. So this approach often leads to alienation that in turn demands even more control. Driving this self-reinforcing cycle are fear and anxiety.


An alternative is simply to accept and acknowledge complexity as an inevitable fact of modern life and instead of trying to avoid or control it, participate in it. Relish diversity, welcome surprises, look for the ineffable and appreciate the richness and the unique quality of all things. Such an embrace engenders a sense of belonging and reinforces the motivation to participate. Driving this reinforcing cycle are love, empathy and relationship.


The love and empathy and fear and control responses are always in evidence. The challenge for those of us raised to control what we don’t understand is to get them in the right balance. To be at home in our new world we need to ensure that the culture of control finds its place within a culture of participation, rather than vice versa. For it is in the love cycle that we find our creativity, energy and the hidden human resources we need to cope with the unprecedented.

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