Every once in a while, I see a statement like:
You have it within you to take control of your life! You can take yourself any direction you want to!
It’s usually followed up with a counter-argument of:
If I could better my life, I would. I don’t have control over everything. Life happens, and we only have the hand dealt us.
Out of the two, the second mindset is, in many ways, far more accurate. It’s true that we don’t have control over everything. However, I also recognize it is a mindset with potential for despair; it’s not entirely true that we only have the hand dealt us. The truth lies between the two: our control is limited.
Let me be clear: both of these mindsets are fallacious. There’s some truth in each, but they are both misleading.
Here’s an example: a couple of weeks ago, my wife’s 1996 VW Golf blew a gasket and lost its oil. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a small station wagon sitting on a used dealer lot. I’ve always wanted a Saturn station wagon. I have to fix up the Golf anyway, but should I maybe take on the cheaper to repair Saturn and sell the Golf? We decided no, based on a variety of sentimental and financial reasons, and the advice it’s better to stick with the devil you know. Is this the right decision, financially? There’s no way to really know. We’ve hedged our bets and now the cards are going to play out. Fortunately, in the long run, neither decision will cost us tens of thousands of dollars.
I mention this incident as an example of how we have some things we can control and some things we can’t. I think in my ideal world, we would have purchased the wagon, gotten a feel for its issues, then decided to sell either the Golf or the wagon. However, that’s financially not an option. We have control over things to a limited extent.
To the proponents of the first position, I have this to say to you: Start with a question. Ask them “What is controllable in your life? What is completely under your control? What is partially under your control?” Philosophical types realize the importance of a good question (actually, that’s true of all people), and you’ll reach them much easier if you ask questions and make them work for the answers. Answers can be disposable, but questions are not.
To the proponents of the second position, I have this to say to you: It’s okay to be upset about life. It’s okay to feel pain. It’s okay to ask hard questions. I’m at that position too, as I write this. Please include in your frustrations an acknowledgement: you are frustrated because there are some things you just can’t change. It’s stupid and it’s wrong and our system is messed up and it’s okay to hate evil. Go ahead and take a moment for that. Now take a look at your life. What is controllable in your life? What is completely under your control? What is partially under your control? What can you do on your end to make everything a better situation for everybody?