A few months ago, I posted some thoughts that followed on from Captain Jack Sparrow’s wonderfully, weirdly profound statement: ‘The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.’ (You can search for the original post on this site.) I was exploring how attitude affects the way we deal with challenges in life.
Now a new angle has made itself very present for me: how do I handle other people’s problems without a) making them my problems, b) creating my own problems as spin-offs of their problems, or c) decide or recognize what people are really looking for when they tell me a problem (which really ought to be the first place I go).
I am, by nature and tendency, a problem solver. (Those of you who know me may laugh at that statement, but it’s true, I am. In my own special way.) I like figuring things out, and it’s a nice, big bonus if I can solve other people’s problems. Makes me feel really good (oh boy, a clue!). Many times I can see things in ways that others don’t, and that can help broaden their view, even if they don’t do what I say.
Over years of practicing acupuncture, I’ve learned to just drop seeds and watch what happens. I’ve learned to mostly not be attached to the response because it doesn’t really matter. Everyone is on their own journey. What seems crystal clear to me may mean nothing to my listener. Or what I say will set them off in a direction neither of us thought of (which is very cool, btw).
The process goes screwy if someone presents me with a problem and I go haring off for a solution. (I’ve made it my problem). Possible answers will suddenly show up on my radar, as will ideas that come at the problem from a new angle, which may be just the nudge someone needs to look at things differently. I will bring this forward, like a shiny gift, and triumphantly present it. It’s well-received often enough that I continue to do this. If it’s not, then sometimes I let it be, or sometimes I end up in part b: I get frustrated because my solution was rejected, and I start hammering away, trying to change minds. Their problem has now become my problem, and I’ve created that all-l-l by myself.
I mean, I’m right, right? Your life would be so easy and so much better if you just did what I said.
This is something I’ve done all my life. (You should see my grade school report cards. There are always comments like ‘She’s very bossy’.) I’m not unaware of this, and for a very long time I never offered patients advice because I don’t know if you’re actually doing exactly what you should be doing. Now that I’m a more seasoned practitioner, I know I have knowledge my patients don’t have, so I offer suggestions (that sounds so much softer and nicer than ‘advice’). However, I’m also aware that suggestions from the person you’ve come to for help in healing have much more weight than what your mother or best friend has to offer.
If you take that suggestion, use it, and it works, boy howdy, am I doing happy dances in the hallway – mostly because what I said has been useful, but also because my ego is very happy with both of us. It’s happy with me because I found the solution, and it’s happy with you because you listened to me.
When you don’t listen to me or immediately find reasons why what I suggest won’t work or is impossible to do, if I try to convince you, I’ve spun off from your problem (which I happily adopted) and created my own problem.
More importantly, my attitude about your problem was probably wrong to begin with. Maybe I was just supposed to listen. Heaven knows most of us don’t get listened to enough, so someone who just listens, doesn’t offer suggestions or judgements, empathizes, loves you, is a blessing beyond price.
So when someone tells me a problem, I have – right there in that first moment – a choice: listen and offer help, or just listen. Sometimes that choice is obvious, sometimes it resonates with my own subconscious issues or old baggage or family stuff blah blah blah, and when I react from that place I fall down the rabbit hole.
This is a work in progress, so I have no resolution to offer. Maybe there’s not supposed to be, because nothing is ever going to present itself in the same way twice, so I can’t make guidelines for myself, darn it. I can, however, resolve to listen to you, then listen to my heart, and try to move from there. That’s sounds pretty good.