“The problem, fundamentally, was one of control — I had too much of it, over too tiny a territory, and I wasn’t willing to surrender it. You can’t control your way out of control.”Sam Anderson
The above quote is from an article by Sam Anderson in the New York Times Magazine back in May 2015 where he talks about something called blind contour drawing – where you draw something without looking down at the paper until you’re done. Full disclosure: I haven’t finished reading the article, but I found the quote via Austin Kleon and something about it connected a few dots for me this morning.
What is happening in the United States right now with COVID-19, panic shopping, willful ignorance, and anxiety all has to do with control. We all imagine that we exert some degree of control over ourselves, our immediate environment, and therefore the world itself. Trouble is, that really isn’t true. At least not to the degree we believe it so.
That disconnect between our belief and reality is the real problem. Granted, COVID-19 is a real thing and needs to be taken very seriously – I’m not going to argue that. However, it’s one of a thousand things in life that can set off our anxiety, anger, or fear each day. It’s an awfully big thing, but that doesn’t make it a root cause.
Panic buying – whether it’s toilet paper or ammo – is another way we try to exert control over our situation. Like, if I get this stuff, then I’ll be set. Sure it’ll help to some degree – because it makes you feel a little more secure in the moment or because of actual utility down the road – but it’s all finite resources that won’t last forever. As Anderson says, you can’t control yourself out of control.
So what’s the solution?
Hey, I’m just a guy with a blog out here on the interwebs, so don’t exactly take this as gospel, but… I think it comes down to surrendering some of that control and then reorienting how we think about the rest. You can’t give up all of the control because then you’re setting yourself up for an epic failure – we’re human beings. But giving up a bit and then changing our thinking isn’t a bad start. Sort of like not looking down while you’re drawing until you’re done – it’s a genuine surprise.
On a slightly less philosophical note, this is something I’m going to try with my daughter. She’s an excellent artist and loves to draw. I used to draw a lot, but my subject matter was mostly tanks and airplanes back in my grade school days. I’m curious to see how ours will turn out and if this will be inspiring for both of us in some way.