The other day at a coffee shop, I was talking with my colleagues when a strange man interrupted our conversation. As we were talking about teaching, one of my favorite subjects in the world, he said:
“I think students should just do their work and stop complaining. I tell my daughter all the time to shut up and stop whining and get her work done.”
Oh boy, was I angry. Angry! Here is my thought process:
HOW DARE YOU interrupt us?
HOW DARE YOU voice such an insensitive opinion?
HOW DARE YOU treat your daughter in such an uncaring and mean way???
HOW DARE YOU
I huffed, “I’m glad you’re not a teacher with that attitude.”
He looked at me, unmoved.
Then I jabbed back, “I hope someone listens to your daughter.”
And then I walked off in a snit.
There. I said it. I walked away. I got away from that awful man. I had enough of him.
And then, although I was so angry at the time, my car ride home and the day following kept bringing up a very deep sadness for me. That people would think that way. That a parent would shut down their child that way. That someone would add themselves to a nice conversation I was having and have the power to aggravate me and hijack my emotions that way. I thought I was tougher than that.
I wanted to control him. I wanted to lecture him. I wanted him to shut up.
Shut up and stop whining and get your work done. That’s right. A taste of his own medicine. That’s what I wanted to tell him to do. The exact same cruel thing.
Shut up. Then I won’t have to deal with you.
Shut up. Stop. Change. Be more like I want you to be.
And then I saw it. A pattern that has surfaced over and over in my life. I wanted to be in control. I wanted another person to act the way I wanted them to act and not be as human and real and messy as they actually were.
Why do I want to control people? Why did I want to control this guy in the coffee shop? What did I want from him anyway?
I want him to be kinder. I want him to be gentle. I want him to be loving and open hearted and willing to be wrong. I want him to make the world a better place and not a cruel place where we shut down kids and shut down other people.
At the heart of my desire to control is that awful four letter word: fear.
I am afraid I won’t get what I want if I don’t control people to get it.
I am afraid people are not kind and gentle and open hearted.
I am afraid that I am not kind and gentle and open hearted.
I am afraid that other people can affect me so deeply.
I want to be protected and safe. I want to be heard. I want to be loved.
Tell your daughter she is safe with you. Tell her she is heard. Tell her she is loved.
Hey beautiful, controlling, human reader: Who are you trying to control? Why? What do you want from them? What do you want from yourself? What do you want from the world? Are you willing to speak the truth of what you want? Are you willing to speak the truth of what you need? Are you willing to give all of that and more to yourself?
Of course, we cannot go back in time. However, if I could, here is what I would say:
“Hey, seems like you want us to validate you and hear you and respect your opinion. That might also be what your daughter wants. I know that when I’m upset, I want to know that I am safe, I am understood, and I am loved. That’s often all anyone wants.”
And then, I would leave the situation, get in my car, and say this to myself:
Hey Georgi, you are safe. Always safe with me. And you are understood. I see that upset you. That’s ok. It’s ok to be angry and sad. I hear you. I understand. And I love that you care, that you want to be kind, and that you are passionate about your students and teaching. I love that about you. You are loved. You are safe here, Georgi. No matter what. I will hear you. I won’t ever leave you. I will always love you.
And then, I would drive away, and leave that in the past. And let it be ok. And let people be who they are. And move forward in my life with an intention to be kinder next time.
Whatever has happened in your life that you are trying to control, please give yourself the safety and space to figure it out, to understand yourself, and to offer yourself love and compassion through it all.
What do you want? Do you have to control others to get it? Could you gently ask for it instead? And are you ready to offer it to yourself?
Loving you out there. XO