What Can We Really Control?

Christine Whelan | Posted on 04/16/10

People feel out of control after a natural disaster -- and understandably so. We question our belief in a higher power, or draw closer to the divine, depending on our religious leanings.

As ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano continues to spread over Europe, shutting down nearly every major airport, we can't help but feel small -- and out of control. 

Said Brent Bowen, head of Purdue University's aviation technology department, to ABC News yesterday

"This is most significant air traffic control event since Sept. 11 and certainly the most significant that's ever hit all of Europe at one time. ... [and]relief is not necessarily on the way. Volcano-related delays that weren't predicted yesterday are now "snowballing seemingly out of control across Europe," he said.

Scientists don't know how long the eruptions will continue. It could go on for months. If the eruptions continue for too long, or get worse, we could see long-term effects of global cooling and maybe even acid rain.

People feel out of control after a natural disaster -- and understandably so. We question our belief in a higher power, or draw closer to the divine, depending on our religious leanings

I'm a big fan of self-control, and a believer that those with a strong sense of agency are better happier and more productive. But there ain't nothing we can do about earthquakes, volcanoes and other acts of nature -- except to embrace the cheesy-but-so-deeply-true first line of the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the courage to change the things I can.

Our personal control has its limits. Natural disasters show us that in spectacular fashion, but personal tragedy and challenges remind us of this fact, too. The most mature psychological response would be to hold both these semi-conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time: I will do the best I can to control my life and actions, while recognizing that I am not in control of everything.

When you figure out how to do that, let me know.

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