The Illusion of Control

When 9/11 happened, I was living in New York City. I lived in a building in Gramercy Park that was owned and operated by the Salvation Army. It was for women between the ages of 18-35 who were pursuing a career in the arts. We had common areas for playing games and watching TV and we had a large cafeteria/dining room for our meals. Looking back, I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to experience the city from that point of view. I met women from all around the world there — Turkey, Greece, Iran, Saudi Arabia, even Minnesota. Ha!

I remember there was one woman I always observed with a sense of wonder. She was graceful, elegant and quiet and she wore a head scarf, a hijab. After 9/11 I didn’t see her and I remember thinking, “I wonder if something happened to her…” A couple days later, when I was in the dining room, I noticed a woman with long, flowing black hair. I didn’t recognize her. Then I did. My beautiful co-resident had removed her hijab. I remember thinking that she must not have felt safe to wear it in public. How sad that something she had nothing to do with caused her to go against a strong value or belief just so she felt safe. I wish I would have had the courage to walk up and ask, “Are you OK? Is your family OK?” I didn’t.

This story came rushing back to me yesterday in my Managers’ Leadership Program cohort when Fariborz Pakseresht (Oregon Department of Human Services, Director) was sharing his five leadership principles. Fariborz is a transformational leader and it was so inspiring to dive deep into what he views as his leadership principles. Number four is the Illusion of Control. There are very few things we can control or have control over in life. The one thing we can control is our reactions to events or situations. He shared his story of being Iranian living in the U.S. during the Iran hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage by a group of militarized Iranians for over a year. During that time of “Iranophobia” he had to go to a federal agency and be fingerprinted. He had nothing to do with the hostage crisis, but simply because he was Iranian he had to be “watched.” He related to the cohort that what changed his reaction to an otherwise humiliating experience was the officer who took his fingerprints; the officer looked at Fariborz with genuine care and said, “I’m sorry I have to do this.”

Why am I sharing this? One of my MLP assignments is to come up with a model to share with my cohort. The model that keeps playing in my head these days is this: Event – Interpretation – Reaction – Outcome. My interpretation and how I choose to react determine the outcome. The tools I’m learning (the tools I share with you on Friday), give me options for coming up with an interpretation that is fair, equitable, kind and true. My resulting reaction — to assume positive intent, to get curious, to seek to understand and to listen — hopefully creates an outcome that allows for growth and productivity. I feel I’m always both a student and a teacher in this.

If you have a story to share about illusion of control, I’d value the conversation. Many of you often reply to my blog with feedback and comments. I always appreciate them; they help me continue to learn and grow. Thank you in advance!

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