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13 January, 2007

Control Freaks

There are a lot of people in this world who want to control every aspect of it. I don’t mean the Hitlers and the Napoleons, I mean the housewives and the administrators, the delivery boys and the middle-managers. Ordinary people who are obsessed with making their own private world as safe and predictable as possible and who achieve this at an often huge cost in anxiety, stress and hard work.

I suspect this urge comes to us from our childhood days – that awful time when our awareness was first forming and we noticed that the world was governed by forces that we had no understanding of. In our fear and uncertainty, we desperately acquired techniques to control those forces – to avoid being left alone, to ensure a supply of food, to feel safe, to appease or deflect anger, and so on. Mostly they were to enable us to survive our parents and our peers. Some of them really worked, some of them were just superstitious behaviours that made us feel better.

We carry these early lessons with us all our lives, ingrained so deeply that they define who we are. Yet no two people are quite the same and no two families are identical, so we have all learned different ways of coping, ways that suited our innate personality and capabilities as well as the situation we found ourselves in. Some of us grew up into control freaks. I’m sure you know one or two. You may even be one.

So, why am I banging on about this? Well, I’ve just written a piece for my other blog (which you’d only want to read if you were in the computer business) about trying to understand the technical specialism I’ve worked in all my life. And I started asking myself why I’m so eager to understand it, even now that I’ve retired. And the glaringly obvious answer is that I’m always trying to understand everything. And then it dawned on me that this too is an attempt to stave off those childhood fears, not by controlling the world but by understanding it. Perhaps if I’d had a more neurotic personality, I’d have gone the other way. Genetically and environmentally, it seems that who we are hangs on the roll of the dice.

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