Choice, control, and respect

Control is about power, not benevolence towards another person. People who do not give choices in life decisions to others do not respect the other person. Control is just another form of emotional abuse. The sad, and ironical part of control is that it perpetuates itself from the abuser to the abused – many who themselves become controlling people. Controlling attitude is prevalent across societies, cultures, and ethnicity. And it generally passes down from generation to generation. It could be nature, but it could also be nurture where if someone never had a choice in life decisions, they do not give that choice to others.

A person might resist a controlling family or spouse, but when a child has known nothing but control since birth, many just accept it as reality and give in to the controlling parents. Some might be strong enough to resist and be rebellious as kids and establish their independence as adults, but many are conditioned to believe that absolute obedience to parents is what makes one a good person. These children grow with an unhealthy outlook on life, where pleasing parents or any authority figure is the only way to receive validation. From a logical standpoint, it would appear that if someone suffered some sort of abuse, that they won’t perpetuate that abuse. Unfortunately, human psychology works in a way where abuse is perpetuated and it passes down in a never-ending cycle because for too many people the abusive life is a reality and they know of no other way of life. Experiencing kindness, compassion, and even freedom could be confusing and sometimes terrifying. When we are in an abusive environment, we learn to stop trusting people and even ourselves. We know that when our so-called well-wishers or loved ones ask something of us, they are actually looking out for their own benefits. As such, we start distrusting other healthy human beings who might show us compassion or love without having any ulterior motives.

The result of being in a controlling relationship is that the abused person tries to get control over whatever aspects of life they can, even at the expense of invading boundaries of newer relationships like friends, spouses, and even children. Besides power, the other aspect of control is a lack of respect for the other person. When we deny someone the life they want to live, we do not respect them. For children, it is an invalidation of their feelings and choices, and if that’s the reality they have known their entire childhood, they grow up to be someone with low self-esteem who needs others’ approval or permission to make any decision. If a child says he feels cold, and a parent says it isn’t cold – it invalidates the child’s feelings. If a child wants to wear something or a teenager says he wants a certain career but his parents say no – it invalidates the child’s choices. Children don’t always make the wisest of decisions, and parents must not agree to every demand. But there is a difference between teaching children how to make good decisions and making decisions for them because of the parents’ controlling and narcissistic personality. If control and a lack of choice is all that a child knows, he/she will grow up to be the same way for two reasons – 1. It is all they know and therefore it the normal to them, 2. They try to make up for the lack of control they had in their lives by trying to control anything else they can. Just like their personal boundaries was invaded by their parents, they invade the boundaries of their partners and children.

Society can be just as controlling as individuals. At the root of it is a lack of respect for individuality. When parents control their children through adulthood, when spouses control their partners, or when government or society makes rules intruding in our private lives, they all disregard the individual. Someone else makes the decision of how we dress, what we eat or drink, what we believe, or whom we can marry. Just like individuals control for power, governments too control the population to perpetuate their power. This is because a population whose thoughts and actions can be controlled isn’t a population that will question its government or leaders.

The opposite of control is choice, and choice is given through respect. When we give someone a choice, we acknowledge their individuality; we respect their thoughts and beliefs. It isn’t choice to tell someone “you must do this or face negative consequences”; it is a threat and an ultimatum. True choice is respecting an individual’s right to shape his or her own life because life is a journey of learning and growing up. What we believe in our 20s isn’t what we believe in our 40s or our 60s. We learn everyday, and we change everyday. I might be a non-vegetarian today, and some day I might become a vegetarian. These same things might become true for my partner and my children. Respecting them is giving them the choice to be what they want to be. It is about respecting their thinking, their personality, and their individuality. If my kid does not believe what I believe, it does not hurt me. But if I prevent him from believing what gives him comfort, then I neither respect his choice, his thinking, nor his happiness. And many people make the mistake that because we are a certain way, our family members must be the same way. Such expectations doesn’t allow others the freedom to grow, learn, or be independent. The only thing we can expect of those close to us is that they treat us with respect, compassion, empathy, love, and kindness. Having expectations of how they should live or believe is disrespecting their personal boundaries. And isn’t this what creates conflict in the world? When we treat our children as an extension of ourselves, not as individual human beings. When we want society to follow our beliefs because we take those beliefs as facts. When we do not respect the rights of others to be different. I might have some personal beliefs, but the difference between beliefs and facts is that beliefs are subjective. Someone else might have equally strong beliefs that completely differ from me. In a controlling or intolerant society, differing beliefs aren’t allowed to exist. Choice and tolerance does not mean giving up our beliefs. It means understanding and respecting that two brains can think and believe differently, and to acknowledge that our beliefs are subjective, and not an universal Truth. Because very few people can treat beliefs as facts and not feel that the other side is Wrong. And if we see someone as inherently Wrong, it becomes less likely to respect them or tolerate their choices. I might believe in God, but I don’t see disbelief as wrong because I cannot prove my beliefs to be a fact. My belief only affects me in a positive way, without negatively affecting others. But if I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I am having a negative belief towards something that does not affect me in any single way. With a negative belief, I am more likely to be intolerant and treat something as a fact that has no basis in objectivity. And once again, we let our subjective feelings invade others’ personal boundaries. When life is a constant journey of learning and growth, beliefs do not stay the same. Seeing them as private beliefs leads to tolerance and harmony. And when we do that, others also see that we respect their choice to think differently, we respect their choice to believe differently, and we respect their individuality. Let us hope for a world where governments, societies, and individuals are less controlling, and more respectful about individuality and personal choices.

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