Freedom & Control

Here’s a blog post I read today that really made me stop and think. When you’re done reading it you can come back and read my rambling thoughts if you like:

What it is like to be a Muslim woman and why we know what freedom is (and you may not)

(via Out Campaign Official on Facebook)

I found reading this touching and sad and maddening all at the same time. It was timely though as my thoughts regarding religion and life in general lately have revolved around the concept of individual freedom and our seeming obsession with controlling those around us.

My thoughts haven’t been about politics so much but more how we as individuals spend a great deal of time trying to make everyone be like us and then turn around and try to be like everyone else. I had started pondering these sorts of things and I started paying attention to how I try to control others. I was with my husband one day and made a comment about an older lady who had dyed her hair blue or something. Then I caught myself and said, ‘Why in the hell do I care what colour her hair is? Who is she hurting by having blue hair? Why do I feel the need to control her and make her like me? Why do I need her to get back in line like a sheep?’

Maybe it’s an evolutionary thing but I’m really sick of it and I think we can do better. Of course we can’t all just do what we want when we want to all the time. We have to live together and get along and care about others. But it wouldn’t hurt us to start asking ourselves more often, ‘Why am I trying to control this person right now? What is it in me that is insecure and needs to make this person do or be different so that I will be ok with myself and my world?’

And of course, since I blog about religion, these thoughts about freedom and control definitely tie in with my past as a fundamentalist Christian. Religion is a formalized way of controlling not only the behaviour of others but their thoughts too.  Whether it’s Islam or Christianity or any other religion, control is at the centre of what religions try to accomplish. Christians may shake their heads at what this ex-Muslim recounts, but if they honestly looked at all the ways that Christianity tries to control them they’d see what I see. Christianity has mellowed a bit because our society has become more secular and Christianity has had to adapt to survive, but don’t for a second think that the obsession with controlling people’s thoughts and actions has gone away. The call to be holy by its very nature controls Christians. Just with that one word, holy, the wheels of control begin to turn. Then add in the concept of sin and throw in a good dose of guilt for every time you step out of line or don’t measure up to that fixed standard of holy … and your every breath is controlled. Every word, every thought, every action is controlled. While I can’t relate to the extreme examples of control that she describes in her blog post, I found myself relating to her description of her escape and her feelings of being on one side of freedom and then the other. I often don’t know how to adequately describe to people who haven’t been on one side of religion or the other just how controlling religion is and how seismic the change was when I managed to get myself out of that world.

Well – I wasn’t expecting to have so much to say on this topic. I hope you get something from her post as well as mine. I have one favour to ask of you. As you go about your day today, start watching for when you are trying to control those around you. Look for the little things. Most of us try to shy away from controlling others in obvious ways, but look for the little times in your day where you try to make someone bend to your wishes. Watch for when you try to make someone say something or do something other than what they had originally intended to say or do. Ask yourself what in you is afraid of just letting them be who they are. And my promise to you is that I’ll do the same.