How do we maintain even a modicum of control in our culture of rapid technological and social change? Especially as women who are often underpaid, overworked, and on our own, trying to balance our work and personal lives, we find little comfort in the platitude, “We’re all in the same boat,” thinking some of us are in bigger boats than others. We’re told that if we all work together we can rebuild this great nation We want to believe this—and we may do our best to help make it happen—but the task seems overwhelming.
Things happen fast these days—so fast they seem to spin out of control without warning: we lose our jobs or we’re faced with unexpected medical bills. Suddenly we lose a chunk of our life savings; that is, if we have one. As we bang our heads against the wall— thinking woulda, coulda, shoulda—we conclude that whatever disaster we’re facing was at least largely beyond our control. We rant against the injustice of it. But our righteous rage doesn’t bring our hard-earned money back.
Part of change is loss, and while financial loss can be hurtful, loss of loved ones through divorce, a move, or even death can also be devastating. One thing I’ve discovered from my own experience with loss is that we each have little or no control of anything outside ourselves. Widely known motivational speaker and author of several books, including Real Love, Tony Gaskins advises, “If you can’t do anything about it, then let it go. Don’t be a prisoner to things you can’t change.” At the same time, even if we lose everything, we still have our inner selves, including our personal values and resources. This may seem like small consolation when we’re down for the count, but we have influence as individuals, in good times and not so good. And there’s power in this realization.
Part of the awareness that we’re not completely in control is in respect to other people. The term controlling person can bring a distinct image of a bullying individual to mind who insists on controlling others in getting his or her own way. But we’re all entitled to listen to the voice inside ourselves when it calls out “Foul!” in reaction to someone’s efforts to undermine our reality. We have a right to voice our feelings, preferences, and beliefs. We can assert ourselves in a calm, polite manner—we can even use humor to detonate animosity. We owe it to ourselves to establish personal boundaries. This can be a liberating experience. It’s one freedom we can exercise on a personal level.
Being out of control is a matter of degree. The question is: Who’s control—our own or someone else’s? Of course, in respecting our own boundaries we respect others’ as well. Hopefully, we don’t become that mean-spirited bully, because we realize it’s inhumane and we recognize the futility of trying to control others. No one can predict the future. Still, we try to remain flexible and prepare ourselves for any eventuality. Actually, this is an understatement: Women can be as flexible as gymnasts in using our emotional reservoirs to deal with life’s surprises—both big and small.
Not long ago, there was a story in the media about a man driving his SUV, who suddenly saw an elephant standing in the middle of the street near Oklahoma City. He had just enough time to yell “Elephant!” to warn others as he swerved, but he wasn’t able to stop fast enough to avoid hitting the noble beast. Although the 4,500 pound elephant’s tusks punctured a hole in his vehicle, the man and his wife were both uninjured. While the elephant—who had escaped from the circus— sustained minor injuries, a tragedy was avoided. Because the man had the presence of mind to respond with common sense, lives may have been saved. Clearly synchronicity came into play. They say “timing is everything,” and this was certainly true in this instance.
The one sure take-away is this: we never know when an elephant might cross our path, perhaps too late to avoid it. I’m using a figure of speech to point out that the world is an unpredictable place. How do we prepare for the totally unexpected? Our skills in communication play a crucial role: I personally advocate expressing courage, kindness, and humor, whenever possible. Then, if we collide with a twist of fate, we stand a good chance to prevail, even triumph. And we may gain a good story to tell.
As women, we all have a voice. And we all have choices. How we use these gifts is up to us. Our experiences can strengthen our characters and even enhance our multifaceted lives. Some things happen that are outside our control. But we can yell, “Elephant!” when it’s appropriate. At other times, we can say “I love you” out loud, in a whisper, or with a smile.
Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones
Producer/Writer/Speaker/Advocate for Women’s Rights