By Grechen Wingerter, President of the Board of Trustees
Control. We think we have it. Control over our lives. Control over others. Control over the world around us. But, alas, in reality, we do not. Combine lack of control with uncertainty and we have a recipe for despair. Sounds a bit bleak. Maybe it is. But maybe, just maybe if we can come to terms with the fact we cannot control everything and everyone, nor can we be certain about every outcome, we can find some peace.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began there was a great deal of uncertainty. We didn’t really know how to contain it. We heard a variety of suggestions, but many people were still confused. We were navigating unfamiliar waters. We struggled to control this unknown entity, struggled to understand how it had come into our lives, struggled to make sense of the chaos. But the reality was we couldn’t control what we didn’t understand.
There is a certain hubris to thinking we are smarter than nature, smarter than science, smarter than things that are bigger than we are. But we do it anyway. Control. Our human desire to control our circumstances. And often when we can’t control our circumstances we break down. We fight. We push. We wrestle with all that is going wrong. So much effort is placed on our desire to succeed, to be right, to be liked — things we cannot really control. We forget about the things we can control — our own reactions, our own emotions, our own actions. We cannot control many of the things that happen — whether they happen to us or happen around us. We can, however, control how we respond to those things. We cannot control what other people think or say about us. We can control how we respond to those thoughts and words. We cannot control what people may do to us — intentionally or unintentionally. We can control how we respond to those actions. Many of those things may hurt us, or make us feel a certain way, or cause us to not be able to complete a task. We may feel angry, or sad, or frustrated — all valid feelings. But if we respond solely in ways influenced by those feelings, conflicts arise. Our inherent response is to protect and defend ourselves in an attempt to gain back control of the situation. But, if instead, we can take the time to slow down and think about what we do have control over — our own thoughts, feelings, actions — and take a breath or two, we can maybe see that oftentimes what others think, say, or do has very little to do with us and more to do with them and their own thoughts, feelings, and actions — and their own sense of lack of control. Whew! It’s exhausting work sometimes — especially when it feels like everything is out of your control.
And that’s where we are right now. We still cannot control this virus. We cannot control whether others get vaccinated or wear a mask or believe in science. We can only do our own part. And as frustrating and exhausting as it is, we keep at it. We have to, I think. To maintain our own sense of control, yes, but also to continue trying to make the world around us a better place despite what others say or do. To give us hope that things do get better even if it doesn’t seem that way in the moment. To give us peace.
I’m slowly — very slowly —learning to breathe, learning to let go, learning to relinquish control, trying to find peace.