Tuesday, June 30, 2009

control freak

I don't think of myself as the kind of person who constantly wastes herself on petty arguments, but possibly I am. This comes up because I often hurt people badly without understanding how or why. Lately, attempting to approach such an insoluble problem, I've noticed a definite common thread: boundaries.

Of course, basically everything about human interaction can be boiled down to boundaries if we aim for it. These are the questions that try everyone; what's mine and what's yours? What do we have the right to do to each other? Perhaps most essentially, what is the just way to negotiate the grey overlap of our conflicting interests?*

I was mulling over this problem in the library today--trying, as I often do, to find something relevant from somebody else who had already thought it over. Since I was looking for a personal psychological level (instead of, say, just war theory), the best I could find was an unexceptional self-help book called "The control freak." Browsing, I came upon this: someone is a control freak whenever they care about the topic at hand more than anybody else involved does.

There's an important insight here, but I have to disagree with the formulation. Of course differing values have to be factored into the equation--but the way in which one asserts a greater attachment to a given outcome can be right or wrong. Perhaps, ultimately, whoever wants it more will win--but we don't all have the same threshold of desire that will push us into some invasive, obnoxious, or questionably ethical realm of tactics.

In the realm of personal relationships, there's always got to be some agreement about what's fair--about what actions are called for by given circumstances, by given levels of desire. For whatever reason, it seems that I'm blind to any number of these social agreements which make things possible.

I want rules to be fair; I want language to be precise; I want authority figures (and others, but especially anyone with power over me) to understand me, respect me, and make sense. These are not usually separate problems. In general, people do not care very much that language be precise, and as long as they are not effected personally very much, they are willing to accept rules that are not fair.

From my end, I often don't understand what is supposed to be embarrassing. I often don't understand the nuances of social grace, that protector of boundaries which keeps people safe, and I really don't understand people's deep attachment to the status quo.

All there is to do, really, is keep watching, reading, trying to figure out where everybody stands. . . and maybe it's more important that I understand the rules than it is for most people--because ultimately, in almost all situations, I'm going to be the one at the table who cares more than anybody else.

*Or put differently, the entire question of ethics is a question of boundaries.


Jamie Zvirzdin said...

I would say I have the opposite problem, Day. I am all too aware of what would offend or embarrass someone, and because I don't want to step on someone's toes, I often choose to say nothing. It can be tiresome to always be over-aware of every possible offense that someone could possibly construe from your words. I'm trying, then, to be aware of what could hurt someone's feelings but to expect them to not be offended easily. One can be analytical without being critical, as my mission president would say, and if the person knows that I care about him or her, they should be less inclined to be offended, right? And James 1:19 is always a keeper: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." It's just a good social formula.

___________________________ said...

I waste myself on petty arguments. I like arguing a bit much. I suppose you could identify boundaries as the problem, I end up aggravating other people and then feeling aggravated(at them) because of that.

That statement is a bad formulation.

You are pretty right about people, the formulations of the rules only matter so much as they affect the person.

Social grace is relatively stupid. At least, I don't have this, and I don't have the first clue how to get it.

Makayla said...

Advance warning: this comment is more of me musing, rather than being helpful. :)

I was thinking here that figuring out social graces and whatnot can also be difficult because society is kind of like a concentric circle. You have the boundaries in a specific family, a specific neighborhood, town, city, state, country, etc. and so there's sort of a constant adjusting and readjusting.

And people are so different that sometimes I think we mistake shyness or passion or some trait that leans slightly more to an extreme than the "average" person, for a lack of social grace.

Then there are people who simply seem to have it - like it's a gift - and those who simply do not, whether they would like to or not.

My last moment of musing was sort of off a bit from what you were actually talking about. I was thinking of the things that I care enough about to get in petty arguments over, and I realized that such happens when I care more about a policy, a rule, or a system than I do about a person. My mom is constantly reminding that the individual you're speaking with should come first -- even, and perhaps especially, in disagreement.

It's a tough thing to do.

Anyway. Thanks for letting me ramble. :)

Matt said...

"I want rules to be fair; I want language to be precise; I want authority figures (and others, but especially anyone with power over me) to understand me, respect me, and make sense."

I fear you will find life greatly disappointing. Rules are not made for fairness, no language for precision, and authority has little to do with understanding, respect or sensability.

In many cases, rules are made with the intent of influencing the outcome of contests without the knowledge and content of the participants.

The use of verbal language is not limited to the communication of the logical or rational. There is an emotional componant that simplicity and repetition convery much more cleanly,

And there is always often a strong incentive to be duplicious. To appear to mean one thing, but mean another. It's common practice in conflict to use a variety of techniques to upset, enrage and distress, and then present a solution that is emotional valid, but that would otherwise be logically unnaceptable.

Authority is often absurd. We yield our agency to anothers authority on the basis that they will use this power to the mutual benefit of all. This transfer of power is rarely reversible--the transfer of authority is frequently to a role, rather then a person, and the person acting in that role is rarely as competent or capable as the one in trust of whom the transfer of agency was legitimized.

A key tenent of ceding agency to an authority figure is the loss of understanding: The specialization results in a situation a single person has undertaken the role of decision and coordination.

Respect is frequently domain specific, and even utility specific - I respect you because of how well you do something, not because of who you are. Your consideration as a 'whole person' never occurrs, because the fullness of person is frequently meaningless.

On that basis, interaction occurs in only a limited context, and no further understanding then to operate within that limited context is necessary.

From this, I would infer To make fullest understanding, respect, and comprehensibility, the highest level of integration possible is necessary.