"You can't always get what you want....
But if you try sometimes, you find you get what you need."
- Rolling Stones
Mirror Mirror on the Wall – Who's the Holiest Man of All?
A lot of things in life are up for grabs: coffee, lunch, attention, power, weaker countries, etc. If there is one thing, however, that for sure one doesn't acquire by grabbing, it is this: "holiness." When the laws of priestly succession were handed down, Korach, who was Moses' cousin, didn't meet the criteria, and he was furious. Biding his time until Moses was vulnerable, Korach made an unabashed grab for power, albeit clothed in the garb of holiness. By whipping up a sense of entitlement and unfairness and by claiming nepotism over the appointment of Moses' brother Aaron, as the High Priest, Korach incited a group of power brokers to back him in a takeover. God, the ultimate "Kingmaker," stamped out the rebellion in a dazzling display of unmistakable clarity, causing the earth to rip open in a yawning chasm that swallowed Korach and all 250 of his cohorts alive, and then – wham – sealed it shut.
Fighting with God
As Byron Katie quips, "When I fight with life – which is fighting with God, I lose – but just 100% of the time." In this case, what Korach and his followers got - when they didn't get what they wanted - was a swift and terrible death. Before that happened, however, they had a chance to get something else – something we all have – which is the opportunity to self-regulate in the face of things we don't like, but over which we have no control.
The Three Circles of Control
The Serenity Prayer is familiar to most of us: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." As a divorce coach, most of my clients struggle with drama stories of blame, complaint, and cries of "unfair!" Sometimes, I use a strategy where I break the stories into three separate spheres: "Total Control," "Partial Control" and "No Control." Most things fall into the "No Control" sphere – the weather, most events, traffic, delayed flights, court backlogs and the way people behave, particularly the ones who are annoying us at the moment.
Once we honestly admit that what is driving us crazy is not something we can change on our own, we can let go, release some of the tension, and turn the spotlight of our attention elsewhere. Like our breath, or things for which to be grateful. We can choose to become open to learning the life lesson, or we can try to grow into being the kind of person who can handle stressful situations with a semblance of grace. We can then ascertain whether there might be a sliver of reality over which we might exert "Partial Control."
In the sphere of "Partial Control," we can exert some influence, in greater or lesser measure. Compared to the hundreds of millions of tons of trash generated in the US every year, my recycling efforts are infinitesimal. But I know that there are millions of other recyclers, and so together it turns out that we affect trash disposal by about 30%. Closer to home, I can influence my family, my friends, or community with a greater effect, but only as a result of my behavior. As my mentor, Laurie Hubbs would say, "the law of relationship dynamics is every bit as real as the law of thermodynamics." If we change, the people around us must shift in reaction to us. Ironically, it is when we stop trying to control other people, take away the need for oppositional energy and give them the latitude to own their own decisions, that they often pleasantly surprise us.
And now we get to the heart of "Total Control," which is that realm where can we make something happen regardless of circumstances or other people's actions. Whether you like it or not, you only have "Total Control" over yourself. But here's the caveat – you only have control over your "conscious self." We only have power over our choices, to the extent that we are aware of our inner drivers. Much of our thoughts and behaviors are habitual, and habits lie in the realm of the unconscious. How many times have I tried to give up sugar, for example, and when I fail, I throw up my hands and claim that I have no control over my "sweet tooth." But, of course, I do. As Judith Beck has said about cognitive therapy and weight loss, our digestive system is automatic; our circulatory system is automatic; breathing is automatic; chocolate cake is not. As human beings with free will, we need to be very clear about which areas of our life are autonomous and which are not. When our unconscious drives drive our conscious behaviors in unacceptable ways, we need to work on aligning the two realms with a common more significant goal.
Getting back to Korach, certain realities were out of his control and non-negotiable, such as birth order, tribal identity, and the God-ordained laws of priesthood. But Korach couldn't accept these undeniable facts. If only he had known the Serenity Prayer, he could have worked on himself. He could have looked inside and realized that in accusing Moses of being "holier than Thou" and a power-abusing despot, he was projecting onto Moses his characteristics and traits. These negative qualities resided in Korach – not in Moses. Had he looked where he had "Total Control," he could have uncovered his defects which were driving the conflict. Instead, he tried to tear down and destroy that which he couldn't accept as hard truths.
Testing, Testing, 1-2-3
So what do we get when we don't get we want? We get the opportunity to grow. And when we take it, perhaps we can influence others in their growth process as well. Fighting against the big "What Is" is not just exhausting and ineffective; in the case of Korach, it was a literal dead-end. When we get clarity around the three circles of control, we can be on the lookout for internal resistance towards things big and small and strengthen ourselves where our conscious behaviors are in alignment with deep core values. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." And then see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.