Tag Archives: locus of control

Stop looking for the cosmic conspiracy…

I’ve been having some of the most interestingly deep and philosophical discussions lately. I apologize if this isn’t really the blog you’ve been looking for… move along… move along, but some of the ponderings that have been pondered have really made me restructure my own approach to some things, and maybe let go of a few not so helpful and somewhat irrational beliefs (thank you Albert Ellis). So, now, I share with all of you. #SorryNotSorry.

One of my own personal pet peeves originates with occurrences throughout my life. It isn’t so much that people were deliberately trying to hurt me. In fact, I know that most people that make the statements I’m about to discuss mean it in the best possible way. The problem is that while it might comfort them to say these things, it can have devastating effects on the person to whom they are said. I am, of course, speaking of the generalized commentary that there is some benevolent overreaching plan that incorporates predestination and general lack of free choice in the outcomes of the universe.

I am absolutely not going to get into a discussion of religion and faith (except in a very marginal sense). However, if this sort of philosophical topic and questioning of grand plan offends, you might want to click away now. At various points in my life, I have had to face disappointment. It just happens. It’s part of living and the odds of general existence. Even the most sure of things occasionally doesn’t come through in the end. The luckiest of people sometimes brick it. That’s just life. There are some who believe that the failures in life are there to make us appreciate the successes. What was it Yogi Berra said “If the world were perfect… it wouldn’t be.” That’s the sort of assumption that states that humans don’t appreciate when they have it good, unless there is something bad to which it can be compared. To go with another quote, and one of my favorites, “What is light, without the darkness?”

I’m not sure if I go with that, but along the same lines are the people who will consistently tell you that the trials, obstacles, and general negative experiences of life are “tests.” For what, I want to know, because seriously…? I saw a meme one time that said “God only gives you what you are strong enough to take…” Um… so, I figure I should be benching Greyhound buses at this point…?  And if my life is going great? What? I’m not worth the effort to test and train? The one that bugs me the most, though is, “God has a different plan for you.” Yeah, I told you it might get marginally religious. I’m not going to get into whether deity exists, what He/She looks like, or if there is some pasta-related being that magically created the world in which we live. Everyone is entitled to their own belief system, and personally I think faith can be a powerful force of good for most people, helping shore them up in times of trouble or encouraging them to be the best version of themselves. Whether you believe there is God, gods, or none of the above is not really my point or my business.

The issue I have is that in the worst possible circumstances and in times of greatest disappointment or horrific trauma, people flip out the “There is a different plan for you…” Um… I don’t particularly care. My plan was just torpedoed like the Lusitania. My heart was broken from disappointment, and someone wants me to believe that there is a consciousness in the universe that deliberately did that because my wishes weren’t in their plans? Perhaps it is just me. There are possibly people who find such statements comforting. However, I am not one of them, and hearing such a thing after significant loss is not really helping the process of grieving.

On the other side is what angers a friend of mine. People who won’t accept credit for their own efforts and who consistently attribute anything good in their life to the gracious boon of a higher power. I get where she is coming from, and I agree to a certain extent. It is one of those things that is very cultural. You can’t accept credit or compliments for fear of appearing as a braggart. So, you have to fob it off as “nothing, really,” or not really anything that you did… You were merely a spectator while some other being did it all and you ate the popcorn? I’m a little more lenient. I think that if you are a person of faith and want to give thanks or credit to your chosen deity for giving you the winning genetic lottery ticket or possibly bringing some helpful influences into your life… all well and good. However, completely disregarding your own effort and will to accomplish a goal seems overdoing the humility thing. I think it is perfectly ok to say, “Hey, I did this! And I’m proud of it!” without all the accompanying false modesty (or maybe real modesty but falsely placed).

So, why do people say these things? Why is it more comforting to think that there is some grand scheme to which we are completely ignorant and just sorta following along hoping we get to be the “good guys” in the story and live happily ever after? Why do we attribute bad things to that same plan rather than just admitting that sometimes bad @#$% just happens. Sometimes it even happens to decent folk, and contrarily sometimes good @#$% happens to people we think really don’t deserve it. Do we get to make that decision, in fact? This person deserves the good @#$% and that one doesn’t? And beyond that, if good people are tested, they should get the bad @#$%. If they get the bad @#$%, why would I want to be good? On the other hand, if the bad @#$% happens to bad people, therefore by that logic, any person having bad @#$% happen must be a bad person. See how that works? Yeah, trying to wrap my brain around that sort of logic is painful.

Though I said that I really wasn’t going to get into the religious aspects (as in organized religion), and I’m not, really; I will actually generalize to say that most modern religions all predict rewards and such after death. There definitely seems to be more of a focus on “Life sucks and that’s cool, because when you die everything will be perfect.” I just don’t know how I feel about that. Combine that with the wide variety of doctrines and instruction manuals that have the different ways to qualify for said rewards… Yeah, that’s how wars start, and I’m just not going there.

I guess my biggest problem with it is the free will thing. If there is a plan, all predetermined, what is the point of any of us behaving ourselves, acting like decent folk, or bothering with things like ethics or morals in general? See my circular logic-spiral-of-death above. It seems a little redundant in fact. If the overseeing mind has already been made up, what is the point of doing good? That being said, I know that a few centuries ago people were burned at the stake for even asking that question.

However, I have to admit my own susceptibility to the mindset of external locus of control. For me, it isn’t the comforting kind that says, “These things are sent to try my faith,” or “That didn’t work out because there is something better in store for me.” That’s not how my brain tends to tick. In my case, it is my feeling of dread and expectation. I cannot accept the good. Maybe it is the years of hearing that good people are tested and that their reward comes after death. Maybe it is that the external locus of control I allow in my weaker moments belongs to Murphy and all his Laws. When things are going too well or a few good things come my way, I start getting nervous. It’s true. I have to remind myself consciously as a woman of science that the universe is not really some sentient malevolent being waiting for me to get complaisant so it can drop a large anvil on my head.


But that is how we’ve been taught to think in this modern world. Expect the worst and take what you get. I actually wrote about this aspect once before (See Monster Spray). It is one of the most insidious things that can happen in the human brain, believing that there is a balance out there and a tally being kept and too much good requires for that balance to be reset by something awful… or vice versa. It keeps us from accepting the fact that sometimes, bad stuff just happens. It can hurt, but we can run from it or learn from it (my absolute most cherished line ever produced for a Disney film). The other side of the nasty little psychological parasite of external locus of control… we don’t truly enjoy the good @#$% because we are too busy waiting for the bad @#$% to be balanced out in the tally books. At some point, we need to realize it isn’t all some big conspiracy. We need to enjoy the good and live the best we can with the bad… maybe learn a bit from both.

Light a candle and stop cursing

Light a candle...

We are in the new year. I wonder how everyone is doing on those resolutions. So many people make resolutions believing in some sort of magical properties of the holidays to make wishes come true. We believe that saying it at that time will just make it happen. *poof* I personally think that this is part of the reason that the majority of “resolutions” lose their resolve rapidly as the year waxes into the full winter and we find ourselves at another turning with the same wishes for betterment still on the “To Do” list with another celebration of the year end.

The weakening of resolve can be attributed to faith in an external locus of control that will somehow take away the key factor in success… hard work. As odd as it may sound, the facet of human success that is given the least amount of credit and yet should deserve the most is effort. Much attention and reward is given to factors and aspects of human existence over which we have no control. It sadly contributes to a loss of internal locus of control and a willing indolence in people who say, “Why should I make any effort? I cannot control the outcome.” From this mindset is conjured a believe in predestination and fate that smacks so strongly of arrogance that it deserves another smack… across the face. What? Did I stutter? Yes, arrogance, people! It is arrogant to assume that you have no control or impact on your own life because of predestination. That assumes (using a different part of your anatomy than your mind this time) that you are omniscient enough to know what the ultimate outcome of your life will be and so, therefore you aren’t going to put any effort into staying the course or diverting it. Wow… I must say, my own powers of divination are not nearly so well attuned. However, it makes a little bit of sense. Self-fulfilling prophecies aside, if you decide to sit around and put in no effort to achieve your aspirations or change your undesired situation, my guess is that you will likely end up exactly as you might expect… with no achievement and no change.

Now, this train of thought on which I bought a ticket this morning is no great epiphany or lightning bolt of originality. I cannot, to be honest, take credit for being the first, only, or possibly even most eloquent individual to ever ponder upon the inherent indolence of humanity. Thomas Edison was the first person to note that success is only partially explained by intellect and creativity and the majority of the credit should be given to sweat; “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Apparently Colin Powell had a more complicated recipe for success. Along with the hard work and inspiration, he also included learning from failure, and not giving up.

I must give credit to a friend and coworker for some of my own inspiration and insight this morning. He posted about the similarity of people and domestic rabbits who are happy to remain in the fouled warren of their own hutch in perceived safety than risk the unknown danger of exposure running free in the yard or home of their owner. He drew the comparison to men and women who choose to live in poor conditions even when opportunities exist to provide better alternatives because it is comfortable psychologically, less terrifying than change, and requires less effort on their part. And so, they stay and vent any frustration and potential energy to influence change in their situation by complaining impotently about the misery they choose over the fear they avoid. I responded to him that this was an illustration of the concept of “learned helplessness” originally defined by Skinner (in a horrible behavioral experiment with dogs. Look it up, because I am not going to go into it here and catch hellish emails from PETA or others believing I condone such.). What my friend was actually describing is actually a very common human experience. Fear of the unknown or expectation of adverse response is a paralyzing force that keeps status quo despite the discomforts or desire for better. Sadly, the fear of uncertainty frequently outweighs certain misery. For change to occur, motivation must come from changing that balance and reversing the conditions.

Transformation in a scientific sense requires energy to convert one thing or combination of things into another. The energy has to come from somewhere. No meaningful change will ever occur without concerted effort from the individual to manifest that change. If we want to change the circumstances of our lives, we need to provide the catalyst and energy to promote that change. If you don’t want to expend the energy, then be satisfied with the status quo and “quit yer bitchin’”. However, as Peter Benenson said, “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”