The next block Steve reached for was red. He placed it on the floor in front of the blue one, sat down and put his feet up on it. Feeling highly visible, even daring, he waited for the room to react.
The room ignored him.
“More,” I muttered.
He found a yellow block next, and put it beside the red one. Then he found a green one and put it on the other side.
He made a line of blocks, a little wall. Then sat nervously down to await developments.
No one in the classroom noticed, or if they did, they didn’t let on.
He went on building. He made a second tier of blocks, and then a third. When he was done the little multicolored wall rose to his waist and enclosed a small triangular space that felt oddly safe and protected. He sat back down and examined the wall happily. It felt like some sort of achievement.
I think Steve wants to add something here.
Coming to mind is a passage from a Hemingway story. It’s about a traumatized war veteran making camp in the Michigan woods. “Nick was happy as he crawled inside the tent. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in the good place. He was in his home where he had made it.”
Yes. It was that sort of achievement. No small thing, creating safety for yourself in a dangerous world.
That’s about it for my story. Nothing else interesting happened. We stayed behind the wall until we went home.
So why did I tell you this?
Well, I’m introducing myself. As I told you last week, I’m Steve’s inner monkey. The part that seeks control. The part that tries to protect him by changing reality, transforming it into something more like what he wants, or needs, or prefers. You just saw me at work.
But I’m also introducing the subject of this blog, which is not a simple one. Control is a slippery fish.
I’ll let Steve have the last word on that:
For a long time after I began examining control I didn’t distinguish between the simple impulse to control and the addiction to controlling. I saw it as a problem, not a solution. A confused attempt to avoid discomfort or pain. Trying to change realities beyond their control seemed to be the main way people made themselves (and others) sick, exhausted and miserable.
But it’s more complicated than that. Controlling is defensive, sure. But it’s adaptive too. Building that block wall may have cut little Steve off from the class, but it also gave him a way to stay in the room.
So controlling can be both irrational and necessary, avoidant and creative. A problem and a solution.
As Bert says, a slippery fish.