Concept of the Month -- July/August 2010

The Criminal's Pursuit of Control for Its Own Sake

Over the years, I have had people comment that by no means are criminals the only "control freaks." Many people are controlling in their personalities. They dominate their spouses, their friends, their colleagues at work. They just have to be in charge. I am then asked dubiously, "Are you saying that all these people are `criminals'?"

This is a reasonable question. And perhaps I have not been clear in my discussion of the pursuit of control. Control is neither bad nor good. It depends upon how it is pursued and the purposes for which it is used. Control is not only legitimate but also an inherent part of certain jobs and of particular roles we play in our lives at one time or another. Police officers have as part of their job the exercise of authority to enforce laws. However, a police officer can abuse that control and, if he or she does, the result is the overzealous use of force or other illegal behavior such as extracting a bribe from someone in exchange for favorable treatment. A teacher is expected to maintain control of his or her class. But berating a student or some way intimidating him to behave may well represent misuse of his position.

For the criminal, being in charge is integral to his self-image. Anything less than having complete control is not acceptable to him. Thus, he resorts to any means to achieve an end -- deception, intimidation, or brute force. This is very different from a person working his way up the corporate ladder, excelling, then being appointed an executive on the merits of his work and leadership. Once he become an executive, how does he use the control he has? The exercise of control is not for his own self-aggrandizement. As a leader, he inspires and motivates others and, as a result, the company as a whole benefits.

So in evaluating "control," consider how it is achieved, whether it is legitimate, and how it used.

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