Sinestro was the greatest of the Green Lanterns, embodying all that they held dear, apple of the Guardians’ collective eye. When his friend and partner, Abin Sur, died, Sinestro was tasked with training his new partner, reckless and undisciplined Hal Jordan. Against the odds, though, Sinestro and Hal became friends and shared a mutual respect. That is, until Sinestro invited Hal to visit his homeworld, Korugar. Here, Hal witnessed Sinestro’s greatest achievement: a world without crime. However, this did not happen without a cost. Sinestro had enacted complete control over Korugar in order to ensure the peace. Hal was horrified, which confused Sinestro. After all, he had achieved what the Guardians had wanted all along. Hal turned Sinestro in to the Guardians, and they dishonorably discharged him from the Green Lantern Corps.
Sinestro went on to become one of the corps’ greatest villains. He discovered the power of the yellow light of Fear and created his own corps, named after himself, as anyone as arrogant as Sinestro would do. He had believed his own press, after all, relishing the title of the greatest of the Green Lanterns. As the Green Lantern Corps has the ability to overcome great fear, so the Sinestro Corps has the ability to instill great fear. Sinestro ruled his corps by fear and used his corps to spread fear throughout the universe. Fear is the greatest weakness of the Green Lantern Corps, for if Fear overcomes Will, what does a Green Lantern have left to use?
Fear leads us to do things we thought we would never do, things we thought we were incapable of. It leads us to become things we never thought we would become. Fear often creates a desire for control. This is a desire we tend to have in various situations, but fear makes it more salient, more conscious, more pressing. If we can control the situation, or at least convince ourselves that we can control it, we feel better about it. And yet, how much control do we actually have in life? We cannot control other people, nature, time, and the list goes on. We can only control ourselves, and even that is a limited control, if we are being honest with ourselves.
Yet we humans persistently hold on to our so-called illusion of control. We believe we have far more control over things than we actually do. Don’t believe me? How many times do you push the button for the elevator or the crosswalk, believing that you can speed up the process, even though the elevator can only move so fast and the crosswalk is controlled by a computer algorithm? We know these things, but the illusion of control makes us feel empowered. And it is not just in these seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives that we experience this illusion. We convince ourselves that we are in control of aspects of our worlds that no one would rationally think we have even an ounce of control over. We comfort ourselves with a lie, because to confront the truth would be terrifying.
Sometimes fear leads us to believe that others can control what we are afraid of, which leads to giving up our control to someone else, some larger group, some government, with the hope that if they take control, all will be well. (I’ll leave it up to you to fill in the details of various times and places this has happened throughout history.) Sinestro learned of the prophecy of the Blackest Night and set out to force the Guardians’ hand. He led an all-out war against the Green Lanterns and the Guardians that ostensibly ended in the Sinestro Corps’ defeat, but actually achieved his underlying goal: instilling enough fear into the Guardians to enact new laws for the Green Lanterns, including sanctioning lethal force, something that had never been done before. Many were injured and died in this war, but just as with Korugar, the ends justified the means for Sinestro. The universe was safer, he thought, with the Green Lanterns able to kill.
In its more amusing forms, the illusion of control can help us see how much we crave control and how little we actually have. The illusion itself can be protective, because if we realized how out of control we actually are, fear and panic would be legitimate responses and would paralyze us. It could lead to scrambling to hold on to as much control as we can, which often leads to pushing people away and evoking rebellious responses (just think of parents/guardians and their children, particularly adolescents yearning for independence). As Princess Leia once told Grand Moff Tarkin, “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
What, then, are we left with? Unrealistic and dangerous control with a side of false security, or facing our complete lack of control and cowering in the face of the existential anxiety that accompanies pure freedom? Perhaps there is a third option. Perhaps there is freedom in the acceptance of our lack of control, in letting go of our desire to control things.
Acceptance is a key component in many forms of therapy, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). We need to be clear about what we mean by acceptance. Acceptance is recognizing how things are, as opposed to how they were, how they might be, or how we want them to be. It’s describing reality as best we can from our limited perspectives, trying to be as accurate as possible. Acceptance does NOT mean that we like our current situation or that it will always be that way or that we must sit and do nothing about it. It means choosing to see things as they are, which then opens up options for how to proceed. It is much more difficult to proceed in the most helpful ways if we are not honest about reality. And the reality is that we are not in control of much. As such, how might we want to act? What can we control? How do we want to use our limited control? And how do we want to acknowledge our lack of control while continuing to hold on to the meaningfulness of our actions?
As we have discussed, fear can lead to us wanting more control, but fear can also control us. What if we worked to keep fear from controlling us? What if we even worked to resist the urge to control our fear to the point of pushing it down, denying, or ignoring it (though managing fear, like managing all of our emotions, is important)? What if, instead, we viewed fear as a friend? What if we accepted our fearfulness and engaged it and invited it to help us out? Because, just like all of our emotions, that’s what it wants to do. What if we allowed fear to inform us of danger and draw our attention to situations that need to be dealt with? Once we are aware of such things, we can then allow our reasoning and our emotions to work together to come up with solutions, which can often be aided when we admit our fears to others and allow them to join in our process. Control is a way of avoiding fear, pretending that we have the situation handled and that there is no reason to fear. Avoidance is the soil, water, and sunlight of fear growth. We have to face our fears to tame them and befriend them. As ParaNorman taught us, it is ok to be afraid, so long as we do not let it change us for the worse.
How have you seen fear lead to control responses? How has the illusion of control been protective and damaging for yourself or those you know? What do you think about the idea that acceptance of fear and a lack of control can be freeing? How might fear be someone’s friend? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!