Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Standing Down from External Control

In economics the principle of unilateral free trade (1, 2, 3) holds that everyone benefits when one country by itself, ignoring what others may do, eliminates all tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. Cheap imports increase the standard of living both at home and in the exporting country. The historical experiment and demonstration of this principle was the repeal of England's Corn Laws in 1846. Other countries followed England's lead and for a brief time peace, the natural consequence of free trade, was achieved.*

In human relationships psychiatrist William Glasser, whose choice theory I discussed in a previous post, offers a similar principle: in spite of what others may do (assuming the absence of physical abuse or attack), eliminate all habits of external control psychology from one's own behavior. The result will be less stress—from trying and failing to control the other person's behavior—and may even bring about a sense of calm. And the other person, says Glasser, may notice your change leading to a discussion of internal control psychology and new ways of relating to one another. Peace within the relationship may be achieved.

This strategy of unilateral refusal to use external control tactics is especially effective with teenagers, but works well in all relationships. Teenagers are not yet fully mature and can therefore afford guidance from parents, but they also want to be independent of their parents and resist attempts at control. Parents in the meantime instinctively practice all of Glasser's deadly habits—criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing, plus many other variations—and protest that if none of these are used the child will not learn or mature or become responsible, etc. But parents in Glasser's practice who have stood down from using the external control habits have found their teenagers coming back to them, opening up, and even asking for advice. "When you stop controlling," as Glasser says (chapter 1), "you gain control." The strength of the relationship is what gives the parent influence. The deadly habits erode and destroy both.

The value of eliminating external control tactics with students, a relationship that is not unlike that of parents to teenagers, has been demonstrated abundantly by Glasser in numerous books (1, 2, for example). Other factors may complicate matters in couples and work relationships. A mature adult can choose to walk away from either or both. And a spouse or boss may not be willing to try to make the relationship work. Nevertheless, one-sided abandonment of external control, notably the "CBC's" (criticizing, blaming, and complaining), can work wonders in improving a relationship. Criticizing, says Glasser, is the most corrosive habit one can use in any relationship, but it is particularly harmful in marriages. Caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating, befriending, and encouraging—Glasser's connecting habits—bring people closer together (1, 2).

Work relationships sometimes pose a challenge if the employee feels stuck and cannot move to a new job. The boss should be practicing what Glasser calls lead management, the application of choice theory to managing employees, but what if the boss is external control to the point of being almost drill-sergeant harsh? What can the employee do? Abandoning external control and practicing the connecting habits are a must, but offering an occasional compliment might melt some of the insecurities that seem to motivate such a boss. And reminding yourself constantly that you are choosing to remain in that position, choosing to stay for the benefits, for example, or to stay until economic conditions improve, can help. Internal control means choosing one's own behavior. Knowing that builds confidence and contentment.

The connection between internal control psychology and free trade is simple. The former is a theory of human relationships, of how people get along with one another on a personal basis, whereas the latter is a theory of human relationships occurring within the social institutions of business and society. The latter is the implementation of the former and there is no place for external control in either relationships or trade.** This is why advocates of capitalism argue that the monolithic and historical practitioner of external control, the government, should be prevented permanently from intruding into all aspects of our personal and business lives.

* "If goods don't cross borders, armies will" is a phrase attributed to French economist Frederic Bastiat. It emphasizes the connection between free trade and peace.
** Indeed, Ayn Rand calls the trader principle the foundation of all rational human relationships, because it is the principle of justice.

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