The Metaphysics of the Control Clarity Continuum

The Metaphysics of the Control Clarity Continuum
Formal Garden Control Clarity
Formal Garden c. 1900 – 1920. Photo by John Henry Harvey (1855-1938) via State Library Victoria

Thanks to my neighbour’s deep desire for a neat, weed-free manicured lawn, I spent a hot and sweaty morning pulling out a dead shrub. Which gave me plenty of time to contemplate whether you can control clarity.

I completely understand that my relaxed, naturalistic meadow/forest garden could be driving them insane. Maybe they think we are maliciously letting it run to seed; maybe they see that as sufficient reason for “carelessness” with weedkiller application. I don’t know, we’ve never talked about it.

Anyway, during the hot sweaty process of pruning back and digging up a spiky leaved grevillea (in my hot and sweaty yard work outfit), I started wondering if the search for clarity could tip over the edge into a compulsive need for control.

Control Clarity

If clarity is a complete lack of ambiguity that leaves no room for doubt, the process of creating clarity becomes that of removing uncertainty or inexactness. Like when you clean the cloudiness from stock, search for the perfect word, or weed a daisy from your lawn.

This kind of clarity requires a level of control to make sure that:

  1. Extraneous variables don’t muck things up.
  2. Chaos can’t fight back and take control.
  3. Everything stays the same. Forever. And ever. (and ever)

And sometimes, control becomes more important than clarity. You are battling the tides of change instead remembering that you wanted clarity and going with the flow.


Wanting control is not a bad thing per se, it’s why we vote, schedule activities, and get our driving licences. We like the opportunity to have our say, manage our lives and not have to rely on others.

But there are things that you can control, and things that you can’t. You can’t control whether an unwanted plant takes up residence in your lawn – there are too many uncontrollable variables like the wind, birds and bugs that leave seeds behind. The best you can do is vigilantly patrol your patch and poison or pull them up as they emerge.

You cannot control anything that involves other people, creatures or natural forces. All you can control is your mind and your efforts. For the most part anyway. If you absolutely love seeking out and destroying plants that contaminate your lawn, then good on you! Keep going (and if you let me know where you live I’ll send some over).

But, if this isn’t what you love, then you have to learn to embrace and live with randomness. Or relocate to a place where lawn care is not your problem, though you may still have to learn to live with the weeds.

As my mother used to say, “what cannot be cured, must be endured.” Or sometimes; “like it or lump it.” I’m not sure if she was channelling Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, or someone else, but it’s still wise advice.


Some days I think I can’t control anything, so perhaps control, or the lack of it, relies more on clarity than we suspected.

I find the formal garden illustrated above quite appealing. I think it might be pleasant to have a place to sit and look out on order. But I have to be clear and say that as I am not willing to weed the beds, clip the topiary, or sweep the paths, this isn’t the garden for me. And, it doesn’t look like a place my dogs can comfortably run and play without risk to themselves or the garden. This kind of garden is more like something you look at than something you live in. It’s beautiful but more appropriate for my neighbour than me. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing, but you do have to spend some time thinking about where your boundaries start and finish. Being clear about your limits shouldn’t stop you pushing up against them now and again – you don’t want to put yourself in that control box where things always stay the same. You need the space to grow and change too.

The Control Clarity Continuum

I think it is possible to have control without clarity and vice versa, so perhaps the control clarity dilemma is more of a continuum. Though I also believe it’s in a state of flux that ebbs and flows according to circumstance.

And to be clear, I’m not just talking about gardening.

I mean that you need to be clear in your opinions about gender roles, sexuality, race, nationality, asylum seekers and doing to others as you would have them do to you.

You need to be clear about what you can and can’t control, and what your boundaries are. And when the circumstances warrant it, you need to push your own and those of others.

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