Not My Circus

Not my monkey
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There is an old Polish saying: not my circus, not my monkeys.

Some things are not our problem.  Most things actually.

The Stoics teach us to control what we can (our effort and attitude as well our thoughts and reactions to external events).  We can’t control the weather (but we can learn and create contingencies like having rain gear and backup plans); we can’t control the Administration and what they legislate (although we can influence it through organizations like NAIFA that collect our voices and amplify them); we can’t control whether someone else is having a bad day before we talk to them.  We can just do the best we can in the situation to understand, act with empathy where we can, and improve things going forward within the constraints given and our spheres of control/influence.

And sometimes, we just need to walk away.

Now, if the monkeys are yours because it is your circus (probably the best description of home life these days), then you have to deal with the issues before they spiral out of control and you have a Lord of The Flies situation.  But if it is someone else’s circus, and they haven’t invited you into their big top (whether as a performer, or guest, or maybe to help be ring master), then just let it be.

“Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine” was something I heard as an 18 year old Pledge in the Fraternity, a nicer (or more management speak) way of saying “you made your bed, you lie in it” as my mother would tell her brood.  We can’t solve everyone else’s problems, nor should we.  Pay attention to yourself Karen (or Chad) because the manager isn’t going to talk to you!

We want to save others, to put on our super suit and rescue the kittens or our White Knight armor and save the damsel in distress.  News flash: many people are happy in their misery, or at least claim to be because they are unwilling to do what it takes to correct their situation, be it breaking an addiction or having the discipline to eat right and exercise or do the extra work to change their economic situations.  Some will never change, some won’t yet because their situation isn’t painful enough to them to force their metamorphosis.  It can rip your soul to shreds watching a friend deteriorate, or to a lesser level watching clients make completely irrational and self-destructive decisions.  Sometimes we need to let them fail, to hit rock bottom before we help them climb out of the pit of despair.  Getting to the bottom is where a foundation for growth is built.

A drowning person is dangerous to save because they will unconsciously fight and flail and drag you under with them.  Lifeguards know they need to push this person away so that they don’t both go under, then when the person in need of rescue is exhausted and has expended everything they can be dragged out of danger and truly helped on stable land.  Think about that, and how you might talk to them while staying out of harm’s way.

As a profession we help people in general, and our clients in very specific ways.  It gives us skill sets and mind sets that we use in volunteer organizations and interpersonal relationships to improve the operations, outlooks, and outcomes.  Yet sometimes others just can’t see what we see, because they are looking out from experiences we can’t understand.  You can care for them more than anyone that hasn’t shared their last name (and sometimes even more), but until they open their tent and invite into the inner workings of the circus, we can’t let their monkeys get on our backs.

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