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.