2. Controllers and Conformers

A king loved to eat eggplant. He couldn’t get enough of it, and even had a servant whose only job was to prepare eggplant. The king often raved about it. “How fabulous this vegetable is! How divine it tastes! How elegant it looks! Eggplant is the best thing on earth!”

“You are certainly right,” the servant replied.

That very day, the king ate so much eggplant he became ill. He moaned. “No more eggplant. I don’t want to ever again see this food of hell. Eggplant is the most horrible vegetable.”

“You’re certainly right,” replied the servant.

The king was startled to hear this. “Today, when I was talking about how magnificent the eggplant is, you agreed with me. Now that I’m talking about how terrible it is, you again agree with me. How do you explain this?”

“My lord,” said the servant, “I am your servant, not the servant of the eggplant.”

It seems many people are servants not of truth but of tradition, followers not of facts but of fantasy, worshippers not of reason and reality but of illusions and imitation. They allow chance, not choice, to determine their destiny.

What is the most persistent obstacle to human development? What prevents people, more than anything else, from achieving spiritual transformation and fulfillment, from attaining their full potential? Two characteristics always stand out: control and conformity. People for the most part love to be both controllers and conformers. These opposing tendencies are the two critical poles of a psychological profile called “the authoritarian personality.”

Perhaps 90 percent of people allow their lives and destinies to be controlled mainly by tradition, habit, custom, convenience, conformity, and conditioning; sources that eliminate or diminish thinking and choosing.

We do everything by custom, even believe by it; our very axioms, let us boast of free-thinking as we may, are oftenest simply such beliefs as we have never heard questioned. _Thomas Carlyle

Men commonly think according to their inclinations, speak according to their learning and imbibed opinions, but generally act according to custom. _Francis Bacon

Astonishing as it may seem, controllers and conformers generate most of the world’s supply of miseries. As designed by the Creator, human beings are made to think and choose for themselves, to be neither controllers nor conformers. Whether an individual submits to a system of belief or ideology out of conformity, or finds himself at the mercy of a tyrant who controls his life, the result is the same: he experiences the anguish of submission, the stress of repression.

The foundations of the authoritarian personality are laid during the formative years by the way parents treat each other and their children. Unfortunately, up to now, religion has also played a decisive role in promoting the authoritarian personality. We know all too well of those who have waged wars in the name of love, who have opposed science in the name of truth, and have divided people in the name of God.

Since the authoritarians play a decisive and far-reaching role in the destiny of humankind, they deserve closer attention. Extensive research reveals a consistent profile. The authoritarians:

  • Often view and judge events in simple—black and white—categories. (If you don’t believe the way I do, you will go straight to hell.)
  • Are rigid, inaccessible, and feel threatened by change, both in self and society.
  • Dislike knowledge, yet seek labels and degrees as status symbols.
  • See their own weakness in others; complain about other authoritarians who act like themselves.
  • Cannot express their feelings freely.
  • Seek safety by staying with the majority; want to know what others think; look down on racial and religious minorities.
  • Are very cautious; resist even reasonable risk; are distrustful.
  • Worship power, look down on the weak and the disadvantaged.
  • Take pleasure in exerting control over people’s lives. Everything must be done their way. They act like a dictator.
  • Feel uneasy toward the mysterious, the unknown, and the ambiguous; need perfect clarity. Tradition and “tried and true” give them security.
  • Are super patriotic, provincial, and unconcerned about the fate of other nations and peoples.
  • Resist looking inward, base their worth on accumulations and status symbols.
  • Rank high in conformity; they conform to custom, tradition, parents, priests, the majority, and those with status symbols higher than theirs.

It seems ironic that controllers are also conformists. In fact, conformity constitutes the hallmark of the authoritarian personality. The deficiency behind both symptoms—the need for control and conformity—is the lack of internal standards. The strong “ego” the authoritarians display is simply an attempt to conceal their true identity: a feeling of weakness and unworthiness. Several points are in order:

  • Very few authoritarians display all the listed traits all the time and to an extreme. It is no wonder that most people laugh at a character like Archie Bunker, the perfect example of an authoritarian personality. They find a faint image of him in themselves, an image that subconsciously they know to be true but consciously find difficult to admit. Without knowing it, they laugh at themselves.
  • The intention is not to imply that conformity has no place in human life, but that it should always be guided with reason and tempered with purpose. For instance, submission unto God is a virtue.
  • The kind of education offered in our public schools and universities has little if any impact on controllers and conformers. Schooling simply crystallizes the existing tendencies, makes them more resistant to change. Authoritarian personalities are found abundantly in the ranks of the highly educated.
  • Prejudice (racial, religious, ethnic, and gender) is the hallmark of an authoritarian personality.
  • The authoritarian personality (the desire for control, inability to communicate, etc.) lies at the root of the pervasive family conflicts in our time. Those who try both to conform blindly to authority and to be the authority are also the main cause of wars and conflicts among nations as well as the widespread divisiveness within religion.
  • The resistance of controllers and conformers (who are always in the majority) to new ideas is best demonstrated in the rejection and persecution of the kindest, wisest, and gentlest human beings the world has ever known: God’s supreme Messengers and Redeemers. The consequence of this act alone to the destiny of humankind is beyond estimation.

The world has always been carried forward by the persistent efforts and sacrifices of the few who decline to join the ranks of both controllers and conformers, who think for themselves, who respect the verdict of reason, who follow their own conscience and investigate the truth with freedom and detachment.

What can we learn from recognizing the epidemic spread of the authoritarian personality? We can learn that we too, without knowing it, may be among the majority who carry the attitude of control and conformity to the extreme, who let “the authorities” do their thinking for them. That we too may be among those who mistreat their loved ones without ever realizing it. For the way we think and act appear as natural to us as breathing. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2).

The first and most vital step towards transformation and self-growth is to stand humble before our own selves, to search our own souls to see if we truly respect other people’s right of freedom and self-government. Then we must try to loosen our attachment to conformity and the ways of past generations, to set aside the traditions, attitudes, and habits that stand in our way, and stop living the way others expect us to live. Then, with conscious knowledge and full awareness, we must design our own mansions of freedom, build them in harmony with our own needs, our own wisdom and understanding, and not those of past generations alone. We should use the past, not as a path, but as a guidepost; not as an anchor, but as a beacon.

“There is no tyrant like custom, and no freedom where its edicts are not resisted.” If you must rely on conformity and submissiveness as your primary resource for stability, then you are indeed the slave to a tyrant that dwells within you, and you will be inhibiting the freedom of those who claim to be your loved ones and crushing any chance you may have for your own independence.118 _Dr. Wayne Dyer

In one of His Epistles, Bahá’u’lláh reveals the essence of sublime attributes such as wisdom, glory, love, detachment, understanding, courage, charity, faith, magnanimity, and knowledge. Then He concludes with this statement:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.119

Bahá’u’lláh declares that we cannot attain justice by seeing through other people’s eyes:

O Son Of Spirit!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.120

And yet as Albert Einstein observes:

Small is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.

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