How many times have you thought you were intervening in someone’s life for their own good? This could look like giving hard-heard advice. Maybe you created a difficult or hurtful situation that you believed would help them in the long run. Or perhaps you coerced someone until they gave in and did what you thought was best. Don’t feel bad, I think everyone has used these tactics at some point.
If everyone is doing it, what’s the problem? If you judge your behavior by its popularity or how often other people do the same, you probably aren’t examining its effectiveness. If you did, you might be able to see that trying to help people sometimes results in the opposite of what you intended; however, you can count on it damaging the relationship between you and the person you are attempting to help.
The process of Mental Freedom® will help you resist the urge to fix people who aren’t broken. The first thing to do is to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are perfect. If yes, congratulations. I’d like to meet you because I haven’t yet met anyone who fits in this category. If no, then why would you take on responsibility for someone else? The purpose of our lives is to figure out our own stuff first. Sometimes helping others is our way of avoiding the responsibility of handling our own life’s maladies. It’s much less painful to examine other people’s lives than our own.
If the situation is your responsibility, then you will act or choose not to—that choice is yours. You can take responsibility for what is yours or try to put it off on someone else. When you decide to not take responsibility for what is yours, you do an about-face on your Mental Freedom journey. In the moment, it might feel like you are avoiding the consequences for taking responsibility, and you might even get away with it. However, if you have a true desire to strengthen your Mental Freedom, you will not feel good about the person you were in that situation.
Figuring out our own stuff first does not mean you don’t care about people or will refuse to help when and if you can. I first heard the concept of being response-able in Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I expand on this in Mental Freedom. Once you have determined something isn’t your responsibility, then you can determine whether or not you want to be response-able. Everyone is able to respond in most situations, and when you make decisions and engage in behaviors of being response-able, you become 100 percent responsible for what you choose to do. Sometimes, being response-able can help the situation; other times, it doesn’t.
I’m reminded of a time a fish in a freshwater tank was birthing babies, and my friend and I were afraid the other fish in the tank would eat them. We decided to be response-able by erecting a barrier to separate the mother and babies from the rest of the fish. We thought we were helping, but in the end, all the babies died. Perhaps they would have died anyway, but we’ll never know if it was our response-ability that caused their demise.
When deciding to be response-able with people (not tanks of fish), you might send an unintended message to those you are attempting to help. When you offer to help people become more as you envision them, you send a subtle—sometimes, not so subtle—message that there is something wrong with the person. Indeed, from your perspective, you might agree that there is something “wrong” with a person’s behavior, but you are only able to determine if that behavior would be right or wrong for you.
People make decisions based on a variety of reasons. The thing that drives you most may not be as important for another person. I remember working with a mother who was struggling with her daughter. She believed her daughter didn’t take anything seriously and was a slacker when it came to working. The mother’s two strong needs were Significance and Safety & Security, so of course, she prioritized work and making a living. The daughter’s highest need was Joy, and she wanted to have as much fun as she could before taking on adult responsibilities. Depending on who you resonate with the most, you will probably decide who is right and who is wrong. The truth is that each person determined what was best for themselves in that situation. The challenge is when you decide it’s not only your right but also your responsibility to get others to choose the things that you think are right. That is never your responsibility.
Doing so can alienate the other person. If the person makes your favored choice to please you, they might be making themselves miserable. Or the person might double-down on their choice, which could create a volatile exchange that damages the relationship. If compliance is your only concern, go ahead and try it. You might get what you want, but you also might get the opposite or even worse behavior, an extremely unhappy person or a damaged relationship.
What’s the answer? Accept that everyone has their own life to live and choices to make. Allow them to make those choices. Weigh in, if asked, on some things you think they may not have considered, and then, back off and allow them to make their own decisions. Remind yourself that you might be attempting to fix someone who isn’t broken. Everyone has their own path, and you will not be able to save another person from the consequences of their own behavior. You must allow them to experience all the natural consequences of their decisions. This is how we learn. If you try to protect everyone from the consequences of their choices, you rob them of their ability to grow stronger and learn something.
If you want to be response-able, you can be there to talk through outcomes—not in an I-told-you-so way, but in a way that leads to greater insight and understanding for the other person about how their actions and thoughts contribute to the outcomes they earn.