THE BLOG

When to Listen Instead of Lead

12/27/2012 06:14 pm ET | Updated Feb 26, 2013
  • Rev. Ed Bacon Rector, All Saints Church; author, '8 Habits of Love'

One of the implied themes in my book, "8 Habits of Love," is the danger of rigid expectations and pre-conceived ideas, and the critical importance of cultivating an open mind so that we may live a life of courageous spirituality.

Recently, here at All Saints, we have been living the consequences of what happens when people are fueled by fear. Our upcoming hosting of the MPAC convention has created a furor that only highlights how urgently we need to embrace love and favor inclusion over exclusion.

Is it possible to cultivate an attitude of openness and acceptance? Can we relinquish our need to control others and the course of our own lives?

How You Determine Your Destiny

In our personal lives, this issue of control is often crippling for us. We seek to be in control of our lives and to control others because we crave order. We want life to make sense, to be predictable, to be fair (according to our uniquely subjective perspective).

It is so hard to accept that sometimes the equation is not balanced, that we don't always get out what we put in.

I believe we regain power over this impulse for control when we accept the edict that, "the Universe is kind." I learned this from the writer and scholar Stephen Mitchell.

Albert Einstein once said that the most fundamental question we can ask ourselves is whether or not the universe is friendly or hostile. He suggested that the way we answer this question determines our destiny.

So, I say choose to believe in a love-based view of the universe and you will feel that desperate urge to control and judge others diminish.

I have a friend who, when things feel out of control, tells herself, "It is what it is." At the same time, if she can say to herself with confidence, "I'm doing the best I can," this frees her from that grasping need to be in control. This is a balancing act that we can achieve as long as we trust in love as a guiding force.

Recognizing Our Truths

When parents, for example, try to impose their truth -- their projections and expectations -- onto their children, those youngsters invariably chafe and this can create a highly destructive tension. Our love for our children is channeled into a desperate desire to write out their scripts for them, to give them a blueprint, to ease their way. How often I have heard parents musing about dashed expectations, when what has actually been dashed is their sense of control.

Sometimes we need to listen instead of lead. It is a hard lesson to learn that we cannot and should not seek to impose our will on others. When parents can recognize the truth of their children without feeling as though this is "giving in" or "losing control," they are giving them the gift of trust, respect and authenticity.

This may take a lifetime to learn and put into practice, but it pays off in a deep-seated feeling of fulfillment and ownership in both parties.

And, paradoxically, being unattached to any results increases our chances of finding satisfaction in our personal relationships.

This also applies to any relationship in which we are ostensibly "helping" another person or organization. From our perspective, we are being generous, but in reality we are seeking to control others in some way.

We must explore our hidden agendas honestly: When we give advice, help, money, is it so that we may appear generous, lessen our guilt, achieve a specific goal or manipulate others? Is it simply another parry in the constant battle to attain some sense of control over lives that sometimes seem arbitrary and unmanageable?

Adopting a Habit

As with any of the Habits of Love, we cannot achieve this shift in thinking, this realignment of principles, this subtle but re-orienting change in direction in one fell swoop. These steps, however small or however momentous, must be practiced until they become habitual.

We cannot just "will" ourselves into living a fully awake, truthful, meaningful life. Most of us seek happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our loved ones, but seeking is only the first step on a long journey.

Understanding how to reach out and impact others -- in a way that is true to us and also to the other -- takes perseverance and resilience. It takes adopting this as a "habit."

Making a habit of something means that we invite it into our lives regularly. It becomes habitual. At first, we may need to embrace it consciously, reminding ourselves of the necessity, sometimes even forcing ourselves into the practice. But the goal is that, eventually, these practices become such an integrated habit that we do them instinctively, unconsciously.

At that point we are not longer practicing, we are doing, living. The habit has become absorbed into the fiber of our being.