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It is a cherished and unquestioned belief in self-help that people have choice in their lives.  The theory goes something like this:  the state of your life is a result of every decision, little and big, that you have made up until now, so those who want to improve their lives should improve the quality of their decisions. 

A necessary precondition for choice is that it is possible for a person to control or at least influence the situation they are in.

In some circles it is taboo to question whether one really has choice over one’s situation because lack of choice is associated with….victimhood!  Helplessness!  Nooo!

I find myself asking, however, whether control is really as helpful or empowering an alternative to helplessness (feeling screwed by fate, etc.) as it is said to be.

There is always the flip side:  if things go wrong and it’s true that you do have control….guilt and racking your brains about how it would have been better if only you had done things better, which might ironically (and in my view, predictably) make you feel worse than when you started.

Here are three articles that explain the flip side of choice and control better than I could.

http://www.davidsmail.info/talk02b.htm

http://tomstine.com/no-control-no-control-no-control/  (Particularly notice in the comments how people are not comfortable with the notion of “no control” and try to negotiate it or make exceptions.)

http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2007/01/free-will-causality-character-and-moral.html

When evaluating a thought or philosophy as to whether I will adopt it or not, I think about not only whether it makes me feel happier (personal benefit), but is it also flexible enough to get me through a wide variety of situations, and is it consonant with how I want to be in the world, not only with myself but with other people (ethics).

And for me, thinking about how little control I actually have….is liberating!  It doesn’t make me feel disempowered or helpless, or make me want to blame people or circumstances.

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