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The Illusion of Control


“Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac.” So said Nicole Kidman to Tom Cruise. It was a fictional movie scene, of course, but I’m sure it’s a mantra she repeated often over the course of their decade-long marriage. Digression aside, the quote itself is absolutely the truth. Control—over others’ behavior, personal circumstances, world events, the universe—is a fantasy.

It was Dr. Ellen Langer who wrote the book on the subject. Her work is entitled,“The Illusion of Control.” She believes, and her research backs this up, that human beings have a delusional sense that they can influence the outcomes of certain events, even those events over which they have no command.

Summarizing one of her observations, Dr. Langer discovered that drivers feel that they are much less likely to be in an accident when they are driving versus sitting in the passenger’s seat. No surprise there, but here is where things get interesting: Move that front seat passenger to the back of the automobile, and that individual’s feelings of anxiety completely skyrocket!

In fact, the further removed from the driver’s seat he or she was placed, the more the test subject felt an accident was inevitable. Why? He or she was not the one in control of the situation. This is one reason why I recoil from the bumper sticker, “God Is My Co-Pilot.” Oh, for heaven’s sake.

Can any phrase in our lexicon be more descriptive of our neurotic need to be in control, and yet tip our hat to The Maker in case we get into a situation that is just a bit too much for us? Even then, we want to remain firmly ensconced in the driver’s seat; we want to remain the gods of our universe.

Critics of faith often argue that belief in God defies the evidence. God cannot be “proven,” goes the reasoning, so ceding command of life to such a hypothetical Being is simply foolish. Philosophically, I understand and appreciate this argument. Yet, I counter that we all have confidence in something, in some foundational truth or principle that guides our lives.

So, if you find faith in God to be illogical, I respect that. But, surrendering the management of the universe to a Higher Power makes a lot of sense when there is so little we can personally control. After all, control is an illusion, and the evidence on that matter is irrefutable.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.


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