Have you ever had a friend who was in a completely broken relationship and told him/her to just move on?
Have you ever tried to prevent someone from making a big mistake, trying with all your power to convince them they’re wrong and you’re right?
Have you ever tried helping somebody who was close to you and ended up in a fight with them?
Let’s abandon our savior complex once and for all.
I will tell you why you need to stop, how to do it and what to do instead.
Sh*t happens, people die.
I worked in emergency medicine for about a decade. When I started I was truly ready. I was there to save lives. I was going to save lives. Heck, I was going to be a freakin’ hero.
Guess what. I wasn’t.
Sh*t happens, people die.
You learn that pretty soon in this field.
You start with the expectation that you are going to save lives every day when in fact most of the time you aren’t saving anyone. They just die and there’s little you can do.
Sometimes there is and that’s great. Hey, you just saved a life. Cool stuff. Mostly that’s not how it goes, though.
When I studied medicine I remember one of our old intensive care specialists talking about how to approach this very problem.
“You see…”, he told us, “The body works finely tuned like a thousand little cogwheels working together. When people come to us, the whole system is broken and the cogwheels aren’t turning anymore. All we can do is try to correct every little cogwheel and hope they start turning again. Sometimes, though, the cogwheels are so broken that whatever we do, we can’t make them spin again.
All we can do is do our best and try.”.
And that’s the truth. Sometimes the wheels just aren’t turning anymore, no matter what you do. We can try but we can’t force it. We can try but it’s not up to us to decide what happens afterward.
Showing them the door
My father is an internist. When I was young he told me how he approached working with his patients. He said that whatever he did, some patients just wouldn’t follow his advice. They would not start to eat healthier, they would not work out more and they would not take their meds regularly.
He figured that it was not up to him. It was their own decision. So he said:
“I can only show them the door. They have to walk through themselves.” — My father
I more and more realize the profoundness of these words.
After all, that’s all we can do.
Whether we are working in emergency medicine or a different job. Whether we are talking to someone from work or one of our friends. All we can do is offer our thoughts and opinions. We can try our best and provide help but what happens after that is not up to us.
Offer and accept.
So when we’re trying to encourage a friend to do something we think would be beneficial, whether it may be ending a relationship that is bad for them, quitting a job that is making them miserable or trying to convince them that changing their diet, living healthier and taking their meds would be good for them…
There’s only one thing we can do.
Offer advice and accept their decision.
After all, you can’t make someone else do anything. It’s their life and their choices.
If we try to force someone to do something, even if it’s meant well and we think we have the greatest point in the history of points, remember this:
“The opposite of what you know is also true.” — Timber Hawkeye
It’s the only way we can help our friends and loved ones in the first place. We’ve all gotten in a fight with someone because we think we know better what they’re supposed to do and they refuse.
So we push more and more. And the more we push our opinion upon them, the more we push them away. The more they move away, the more we try to push, after all, we’re right, goddamnit.
We’ve all let our emotions get the best of us and a piece of well-meant advice has turned into a fight. Whether you’re a well-meaning friend or you work in the ER…
Stop agonizing over it. You just can’t save everybody.
The essence of our existence.
But why are we doing it in the first place?
Yes, we mean well. Yes, we love them. Yes, we try to help. But if we dig a little deeper there’s actually another reason.
By trying to save someone else we are actually just trying to get gratification for ourselves.
Mankind is a very interesting species.
We’ve been so successful in the history of the earth because of our ability to work together in groups. That’s why there’s a deep longing in ourselves to help others and to be of benefit.
When you help others and benefit the group you essentially prove your worth for it. Therefore, when we push our opinion and well-meant help upon others, we’re basically just trying to justify our own very existence.
If we approached it correctly that wouldn’t be a bad thing, though.
In my opinion, that’s actually one of the key points of living a happy and meaningful life: To be of help to others.
After all, that’s the essence of our existence in the first place.
But to be of help means to support others in doing something, not doing it for them.
After all, we can’t live anyone else’s life for them. We can live ours and make the most of it. Others have to make the most of theirs.
Alright, ready for the big truth?
Everyone is responsible for their own happiness.
It’s that simple.
I remember when I was getting into the most heated discussions on Twitter and Facebook a few years back, with people I didn’t even know.
How could they not see they were wrong?
When I look back now it’s clear to me. They were wrong to me, I was wrong to them. So we all just tried to convince each other and were just confirmed in our own views.
People log on to their social media accounts just to get in fights with others nowadays.
Don’t do this.
Choose your own happiness. You’re the only one who can.
I recently wrote an article on “Net Negativity” for The Ascent. If we understand the concept it’s getting clear why we need to stop arguing with people we don’t know on social media.
We think it’s a good idea to convince someone else of something, making them see the truth, when in fact we just end up angry that they don’t accept that we’re right. We’re basically spending our time making ourselves angry. Not one of our better ideas.
We choose how happily we live.
I guess we can all agree that negativity does not come attached to being happy.
So just remove it. Step away from it. Take yourself out of the equation and let the others fight it out if they wish to. It’s their choice. After all, they are responsible for their own happiness.
If the only thing you get out of it is negativity, why do it in the first place?
Realizing that you are responsible for your own happiness and they are responsible for theirs paired with the truth that we need to avoid negativity in our pursuit of a happy life will lead us to the solution:
When we truly want to help someone there is only one thing we can do: Offer advice and accept their choices.
And when they choose differently than we think is right?
Let it go.
You are responsible for your happiness. Will a fight with them truly make you happy? Will it benefit the relationship with them or increase the likelihood of them accepting our advice?
No, it will only make them avoid our approach to their problem, decreasing the chances of us having helped at all.
So whether you’re in the ER, talk to a stubborn patient or trying to help a friend through a tough time:
Try your best to help, offer your opinion, show them the door and accept their decision. If they make a different choice, accept the fact that everybody is responsible for their own happiness and let go.
It’s the only way we can truly help others. And if we help others, we help ourselves in living a happy and meaningful life.