Illusions of control: If it’s old, it’s all right

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

WHEN we see traffic enforcers briskly waving their hands to motorists at busy intersections, even when there’s a well-functioning traffic light that can actually take care of the job, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Try asking an innocent question and they’ll simply tell you they’re just doing their job. Of course, you idiot! You’re conducting an orchestra. Right?

One day, I asked one enforcer on the wisdom of his traffic routine. He gave me an impressive intellectual answer, punctuated with a quizzical look: “I want to keep myself busy, while I’m looking at a possible seat in Congress next year.” With a poker face it’s difficult to ascertain if he’s joking.

The fact remains that many of our traffic enforcers are like that— waiting for the next opportunity to catch an erring motorists with a creative, super-imagined, overly-massaged violation:

“You’ve not brushed your teeth this morning. Here’s your violation ticket for P500.”


For a bit of a background, let’s call on Rolf Dobelli. He has an excellent story to tell in his book, “The Art of Thinking Clearly” (2013):

“Every day, shortly before nine o’clock, a man with a red hat stands in a square and begins to wave his cap around wildly. After five minutes, he disappears. One day a policeman comes up to him and asks: ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m keeping the giraffes away.’

‘But there aren’t any giraffes here.

‘Well, I must be doing a good job, then.’”

That’s an illusion of control. It was attributed to Harvard psychology professor Ellen Jane Langer (b. 1947), who explains the inclination of man to credit his ability of influencing successful people, events, and places, even if it’s clear that he has no hand on it.

In my case, more than 22 years ago, I had a personnel assistant who helped me in my task as HR manager of a medium-sized corporation.

She was, by any measure, an average person at the time. But now, she’s the vice president for HR of a conglomerate. How much and what do you think are her pay and perks? I’m placing a conservative estimate of P400,000 a month.

Question: Was I instrumental in bringing out the best in her? Maybe . . . I was her boss for a little over 15 months before I moved on to another organization. At times, I couldn’t help but catch myself glossing over a false sense of illusion of control: “Without me, that young woman couldn’t have possibly reached her status today.”

However, my objective side would always butt in: “Of course not! What’s 15 months to her 21 years of management experience with other bosses? If ever she learned something, maybe it should be unlearned right away, as in how not to be a job-hopper.”

I say it’s about time our government leaders stop blathering about their illusions of control, including those Justices of the Supreme Court who supposedly espouse humanitarian principles, when not being asked for in the petition of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. That’s according to Justice Marvic Leonen.

My suspicion is as good as yours. But since we don’t have any solid evidence that would stand in a court of law, we’d better not say anything against the majority of the justices who voted to let Enrile go back to the Senate so that he can perform his duties, notwithstanding its apparent contradiction to the letter and spirit of the decision.

Here’s how I view the issue: Suspicions couldn’t bring us anywhere. This means that as long as the criticisms against the concerned justices are done within moderate range, there should be no harm done to anyone.

No need to stop. Visit your aging father back home and talk to him in a slightly loud voice so that you too can sympathize with the likes of Enrile, who has a hearing problem. In a world where people love their aging parents so dearly, their affections should be emulated. Therefore, let’s not delay this. Let our justice system release all aging prisoners without any precondition.

Complaining is our national sport. Fine. But it’s pretty useful for many of us who believe that Napoleon Bonaparte was right when he said: “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.”

Next time you hear someone complaining, try to figure it out if an illusion of control is behind it.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random thoughts.

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2 Comments

  1. Great article! I too have expressed my disgust at traffic people who at the instant of traffic light change begin to vigorously make arm signals for drivers to move as if their arm signals will make the drivers move any faster or worse that these drivers need to be signalled to begin moving as the traffic light already gives them their turn to move. I of course realize that these guys need to justify their jobs for what else are they being fielded for but to hasten the movement of traffic thus the vigorous arm waving. Another irritating nightly episode is the traffic people in front of Mega mall along EDSA at night where several of them flick flashlights again as if we drivers need to be reminded to continue moving along. What the heck I tell myself these people are just making idiotic gestures because I will move as fast as safely possible whether or not they make these flashlight flicking signals. Then again as I said earlier they need to show that the are being paid for their efforts albeit insane and moronic. I just suppress my disgust since like many other failures of this government I can do nothing but wait for better times if ever this will still come.