S1E8 - Nitpicking Control: Why Are We In It To Win It?

5.21.18

S1E8 - Nitpicking Control: Why Are We In It To Win It?

Most of us are in the middle of being really kind and really mean. We’re alright people and we think we do our best. Do we keep getting better as years go on, like fine wine or parmesan cheese? Sometimes. But if you’re like me and not a super horrible person, yet you still like to control things, you might have figured something out like this: nitpicking little tiny things that grate against our ideas is not helpful when it’s only for the purpose of wishing something unimportant went our way. For example, if it’s a matter of waiting a minute to let someone out of a driveway or having tomatoes cut in a weird shape for salad when someone else helps, why rush or worry? It’s different when it’s truly harmful like seeing a car next to you almost hit a pedestrian and trying to get their attention, or a detail in something meant to be super detail-oriented in one particular way that needs to be right. But how do we know what is important? I’m thinking back to an episode of this podcast when I said 3 things I always want to be, and they were: dedicated, kind, and assertive. Specifically related to nitpicking and control, assertiveness can of course become overrated. I come from a point of having basically always waited for someone else to make most decisions that move things forward. And I take a lot of time sometimes to get things thought through. Mainly, I’ve found that I don’t take initiative for many shared projects or things where I’m an employee working for another person because I don’t want someone to tell me it won’t be helpful or even work. So I don’t even try, and then I wonder why things aren’t better and more figured out when I was the one who had a thought about it needing to change in the first place. I’m like a backseat driver for everything without having ever taken the written and practical tests for a license. Yes, I’m busy every day and always thinking I should take a better look at priorities, but do I always wish I could help work out the kinks of something and never do? That’s me to a T. Of course in some situations it’s getting better, just calming down and making observations out loud to other people of what I would love to work on, and asking what they’ve done in similar situations. I’m one of many, billions, whatever, and I need to do things when they mesh with the intention of the project, sit back and breathe, you know, take a chill pill. Or maybe move to the East Coast? Nah, I bet my tree-hugging self will end up staying here and working through this interesting high-strung portion of my life.

Thinking back a few months to some crazy guy at the Pilot gas station in Dunnigan CA on my travels to and fro playing gigs, I was getting gas and heard someone yelling at an employee of the gas station, something like “you’re my bleeping bleep, I’m the customer, I’m in charge here and you made me wait for 2 minutes and blah blah blah.” From what I remember, the customer yelling looked like a nice-on-first-look hipster dude with a long beard and some sort of band T-shirt on, but appearances don’t tell us someone is aware of how their interactions affect other people. I thought for a second, got out of my car, and said to the guy: “hey, do you have to be so rude? Wait a minute - he’s doing his job. Oh and instant gratification isn’t everything.” There goes me listening to too many Philip Glass minimalist slowly changing string quartets in the car. Mean people, even hurried hipsters, don’t know they are mean. They are delusional and think they’re helping someone. At least themselves. Really, though, isn’t it making their own lives have less value? I see mean people and generally don’t think it’s worth my effort to share interactions. They don’t care what I think and I definitely don’t need to know their selfish thoughts.

But everyone from teachers to members of Congress to pilots to chefs all have a level of authority over some pretty important decisions. And we probably each know that other people sometimes depend on us. When we are in positions of power, we often forget that we all come from humongously different places inside ourselves and are just trying to make the best of things. Have you ever said something purely because you want to prove that you are in control? We all have. No matter how small the interaction, being kind and present without lording over other people goes a long way. It seems we often lose that connection to other people, the listening to others that is so important down to the smallest of details. One miscommunication and another person could decide I’m not trustworthy, and it’s the same in all personal relationships no matter how shallow. We judge and we overdo things all the time. My favorite bumper sticker says: “don’t believe everything you think.” I hold this dear as I become a bit more adult-like in age and responsibility, and every day I hope and strive to learn how to open myself more to critical thoughts, trying to become a bit better of a listener and a person and a presenter of practical information. Not critical thoughts like always putting myself down - there’s already plenty of that. But I appreciate that people always help me, and maybe at times I actually help people too. I’m not a classroom teacher or president of a country or anything, but I’m around people a lot and they’re usually pretty great if I take the time to listen. Especially the kids, and even the adults sometimes. Adults are much more guarded and defensive, and I can be as well. Working with younger music students as they find their voices, I find that they have much more openness to sharing what they learn in life than most adults I see in any context just once a week. To end, here is a lyric from Modest Mouse’s song, Bukowski:

So tell me now why, you'll tell me never.

Who would want to be?

Who would want to be such a control freak?