I hear this phrase a lot: “The world is out of control.” So, I started thinking about what “out of control” means. In this phrase’s cheapest usage, it’s a way for cable-news channels, for example (but certainly not exclusive to them), to attract and retain an outraged audience. In another usage, it could bring to mind personal behavior, such as addiction or compulsion. For this article, those examples are not what I mean by “out of control.”
When I think about that phrase, I associate it with helplessness. To qualify this term, I think of helplessness as experiencing an unwanted situation or prospect with an inability to do much or anything about it. In daily life, we deal with this proposition all the time. For example, take something to which all Oklahomans can relate: The family plans to [choose your adventure]. Instead, a freak storm occurs causing flights to be cancelled. Or on a more severe level, a bona-fide universal example: The family [or any human] plans to [choose any goal], but along comes a freak global pandemic, and … well, you know the story. That is what I mean by helplessness; circumstances that are out of one’s control.
I don’t think it’s a judgement error to say that nobody likes feeling helpless. However, on many levels, it’s no big deal. It’s hard to image someone truly suffering from a state of helplessness if a restaurant is out of one’s desired salad dressing – yet, it is indeed out of your control, and you are helpless to do anything about it. Perhaps, then, we should consider the factor of intensity. At one end of a spectrum, imagine our salad dressing example, which could also be considered an inconvenience. At the other end, imagine a foreign nation shooting missiles into your window, which is a genuine existential crisis caused by an aggressor. Moving along the spectrum from inconvenience to the existential crisis of aggression, one’s ability to process and adapt degrades to a point where processing and adaptation is, at best, extremely challenging, and at worst, gives way to terror.
As we witness what is occurring in Ukraine, I, as an observer from some 6,000 miles away, have difficulty processing what it must feel like to wait and hope a missile doesn’t fly in through my window. Still, I know that there are people there, today in Ukraine, hoping. Waiting. Praying. And dying. There have been vivid examples of the bravery of Ukrainians who fight valiantly in the face of such an existential threat, and it inspires me to be hopeful. However, hope – whether theirs or mine – doesn’t change the playing field, and it’s very likely to get more aggressive and deadlier.
As I move through this thought process, day after day, it has put my life into a different perspective. At what points during my day-to-day existence do I feel helpless, and how has this changed in the past few weeks, as Russia invades Ukraine and continues to destroy its infrastructure and murder its population? Honestly, I am still figuring it out – and I don’t know if I will ever have a focused answer.
One thing I know is, I have a better understanding of what “out of control” truly means when applied broadly, globally, in the context of such geopolitical aggression. What is happening in Ukraine is truly out of control, and it is a far cry from the mere emotional inconvenience of anything I have experience in my lifetime. As I process it, I attempt to escape the feeling of helplessness by finding lessons that I can apply to make my life, and the lives of those around me, better and more meaningful.