Yes. I know. How can you care too much? That’s a very good question which I hope to answer.
Consider a pride of lions. Each member is concerned with the welfare of his or her family. But he or she would also walk away if the circumstances dictated. If one of the pride was to die, he or she would have no worries about eating it. Not that I’m suggestion eating our friends, of course!
One of the best ways to find peace in our lives is to give of ourselves. Look around you. How many people are smiling? What about you? Are you smiling? Life, today, can be very hectic, leading to stress, misery, and ill health. In my previous post, Be Yourself – or Change, I mentioned that one way to change for the better involves taking an interest in other people. In The Power of Two I highlighted that we can all benefit from a trusted confidante.
Now, if I can benefit from having someone to talk to, what about the person listening to me? Who’s going to listen to him or her? That’s why those who work in the counselling professions are expected to spend time having their own counselling sessions on a regular basis. After all, if you spend a significant amount of time absorbing other people’s negativity, what is going to stop you from becoming depressed?
But enough about ourselves. This is supposed to be about other people.
We are all on our own journey through life. Some are farther (and further) along the way than others; some appear to be stationary; and some appear to be going backwards. Nevertheless, having been on this journey for some time, all of us have learned something; and each of us has something to contribute to someone else. It doesn’t have to be financial; it may be our time or other resources. Yes. I can almost hear the cynics protesting that everything has a monetary value. Does it? Are you sure?
The accountant will say that there is always an “opportunity cost.” And he would be absolutely correct. However, that’s a discussion for another day.
For now, just think about all those people around you. Every one of them has a story to tell. Many of them will be sad stories, too. And most of them never have an opportunity to tell their story. They have to suppress it just to be able to get on with life. But why should they? What if there was someone who would listen to them?
What about the lessons that you have learned on your journey?
Is it possible that someone else could benefit from your experience? Everyone has something to offer. That may be why we turn to our five-year-old to ask for help in using our new mobile phone!
Some years ago a recently-bereaved woman told me about a “conversation” she had with a new, but trusted mutual friend. He was chopping wood and she went and sat on a nearby swing. She discussed her feelings, her loss, her uncertainty about the future, and all those things that pass through your mind at such a time.
After about an hour she said, “Thanks for the discussion.”
“What discussion,” he asked. “I haven’t said anything. You did all the talking.”
She thought about this and realised that he was right. But she still felt better.
There are several lessons to be learned from that experience. First, never underestimate the power of listening. If we listen when someone wants or needs to talk we empower them to resolve their own issues. We also grant them their dignity in doing so.
Second, being a good listener does not mean having to solve people’s problems. Most people are capable of finding their own solutions, given the right kind of support, encouragement, and empowerment.
Third, we don’t, necessarily, have to stop what we are doing. Some of the best conversations happen when we are involved in activities that do not require our full attention. Yes, it was important for our friend to concentrate on the chopping of the wood; but it didn’t take all his attention. Try going for a walk; or even better, a hike. You can enjoy a relaxed discussion with no pressure while experiencing a peaceful environment. And you can start and stop the conversation as the moment takes you. It’s also very symbolic of moving forward on the road of life, which will encourage openness and communication.
We’ll discuss what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it some other time. At this point it is important to consider the other aspect of our theme:
Not caring too much
When we start taking an interest in other people we need to avoid some serious pitfalls. It’s so easy to get involved beyond our control, beyond our authority, or beyond our capabilities. We must avoid these traps at all costs.
For example, take my friend in the earlier example. He was a married man. Now, what if he had become too involved with the recent widow? Her emotions would already have been in turmoil. Imagine the damage that could have ensued if he had gone beyond his remit.
Remember, too, that we can only change things within our circle of influence. In other words, we cannot change someone else. We may be able to empower them to change. But we cannot force it to happen. Trying to force someone to change could actually ruin our relationship.
We can also fall into the trap of concentrating so hard on one person that we neglect everyone, and everything, else. So what happens when we have focused our attention on one person and the relationship breaks down? Where do we turn for the support that we need? Therefore, make sure to maintain solid relationships with as many people as possible. And don’t forget that there are others who need our attention, too. We must not spend so much time helping another family that our own family suffers.
Finally, do not pry into other people’s affairs beyond what they want to share. Encourage them to talk, but do not force a “confession” from anyone. There may be times when we are required to sit and judge a situation. But they are few and far between. What most people need is someone who will listen.
Whose decision is it, anyway?
Now, what about not caring too much? When all is said and done, when the talking is over, when the tears are shed and dried, the final decision will rarely belong to you. There may be times when you have to act. For example, if someone confesses to a crime you may need to take further action after encouraging them to report it, first. But generally the responsibility for further action, and the consequences, rest firmly with the person you are listening to, not you. This is important. Unless we can walk away from the situation and enjoy life, we are too involved.
That’s not to say we don’t care. It means we are doing what we can without interfering. And that gives us the peace that we need to keep going. Unless we can maintain that distance, we are not caring; we are controlling.
So by all means, show that you care, but never allow that care to become unbalanced. If we care too much, then we will have lost control of our lives and we will not be able to help anyone, even ourselves.