Of life and death: the myth of control

My friend Euan Semple has always had a good way of challenging uncritically held tropes. The title of his book — Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do — was just another example of that clear way of articulating truths.

So when he writes about the myth of control, it is worth taking note.

We are not in control of the vast web of complex interactions that even moment to moment determine the world around us. We are not in control of our our own thoughts (try stopping a thought about pink elephants popping into your head as soon as you read those words). And we are really not in control of the reactions of others to what we say and do.

And then he asks the question:

So in the absence of control how do we respond to life? How do we do the right thing?

The short but powerful post is worth reading in full.


Here is my view on the matter.

The only way to get rid of the myth of control is to accept — however that acceptance comes — that death, the only certainty in life, is unpredictable and out of our control.

Then, live one’s life asking the question — and with practice, it becomes easy and swift — “if death were to come now, would I rather be doing what I am doing now, or something else?”.

The mere question focuses the mind and one’s attention like nothing else does.

It is not a morbid thought, as society’s queasiness with death has somehow conditioned us to believe.

It is immensely clarifying and liberating.

It gives the lie to the illusion of control that many spend their lives chasing.

The illusion of control is futile and suboptimal.


The question has guided me every day of my life since I knew consciously that my mother was lost irretrievably to untimely early death.

And that I was lucky to have lived through the years and ages she never saw, and I appreciated the gift of life.

That is why you will never catch me doing things to which I have not said a wholehearted “yes”.

Try it.

It might free you too.


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