yesterday, on the way to the CMHA annual meeting, i got a ride from someone whose generosity and wisdom has always impressed me.
one of the things he said (and i’ll paraphrase – my memory isn’t the best) that there is no point in trying to direct every aspect of our personal or business lives, in trying to manage everything to the T; all we can do is to do the best we can.
this coincided in interesting ways with a piece of news that i picked up from various sources in the last few days, about how certain architectural and interior design devices try to subtly control shoppers so as to keep their eyes forever rooted on the prize. the retailers’ prize, that is, not the shoppers’.
of course we are familiar with some of the tricks, such as keeping candies within easy reach of children, or having the “boring” merchandise such as vegetables in easily accessible aisles while keeping hidden “interesting” items such as coffee and cookies in the bowels of the store.
lesser known devices include aisles that are curved at the end, to ensure the eye “never strays from the goods on display”, and the strategic use of flooring (e.g. linoleum vs. soft carpet) to speed up or slow down traffic in certain areas.
do these ways to try and control the consumer work? in the short run, on certain occasions, i am sure they do. but in the long run – i don’t know.
i rather suspect that this is no different than the attempts by airlines to discourage terrorists with ever-spiralling security measures (what’s next? boarding airplanes barefoot?) or the continuously escalating efforts by business and government to forestall lawsuits by putting in more and more rules, regulations and policies.
the whole thing is a power game. in a bit of an oversimplification, this is how it works:
party A (the government, retailers, airlines, etc.) feels they need to have control over party B (consumers, citizens, passengers, etc.). they install measures of control and manipulation.
after a while, party B wises up, gets bored, or figures out the manipulation, whatever the case may be. so party A ups the ante. for a while, party B tows the line until the whole cycle starts all over again.
that’s one part of the equation. but even under the “best” of circumstances, control and manipulation only work for so long. the other part of the equation is that life happens. 9/11 happens, hurricane katrina happens, the dot-com bubble burst happens. control is out the window.
the response? more control.
in 12-step programs, there is a saying: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” in the situations i’ve just described, the results, if they change at all, stay different only for a while.
control is insanity. as my friend said, all we can do is do the best we can. the rest is up to – well, whatever you want to make it up to: life, chance, god.
we can dwell on the fantasy that exercising more control will make it all better (whatever “it” is: security, profits, family life). or we have the choice to live in the reality that at any given moment, we have only limited control over what’s going on with and around us. with the help of life/chance/god, we can all work together to make the best of it.
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