"Monkey poaching?" you ask. What is monkey poaching? Good question. It is something that we do regularly. It is actually a sport we throw ourselves into with passion.
OK. I get it. You have to know what monkey poaching is. Well… It is when you solve someone else’s problems. It is trespassing into someone’s life and taking his or her problems as your own. We do it all the time and consider ourselves helpful, thoughtful, and all around good people. Where’s the harm? you ask. Actually, we can do a great deal of harm for we do not truly know what is best for an individual, only they do. When we solve a difficulty that does not belong to us, we create learned helplessness. The problem holder no longer believes they have what it takes to work out their problem and they stop trying. Their maturity growth is then stunted.
Legitimate dependency is different from the destructive nature of learned helplessness. In legitimate dependency, we rely on our doctors, lawyers, car mechanics, parents, and teachers, among others, to share their expertise with us as we solve our own problems. They have information we need to make an informed decision, but ultimately, we have to decide the outcome. In our conversations, it is important to decipher if you have information the other needs and when it is appropriate to speak your knowledge and when it is better to just be quiet and listen. I have found that it is prudent to err on the side of silence.
We poach monkeys at work, in our community, and especially in our family. Someone tells us their problem and the entire time they are speaking, we are concentrating on what we will suggest they do next. We blurt out our solution and most of the time, the other person becomes defensive. Why are they wary when we have the perfect solution? We ask ourselves.
Think about a time you had a problem and you shared it with someone. Did they give you lots of solutions that didn’t feel quite right? Did you feel heard or rushed to move on to the next topic? I told a friend a deeply personal and painful situation I was living through. My close friend immediately inundated me with her solutions. She went into overdrive and I felt browbeaten when I didn’t want to go down her suggested path. It was a heartbreaking experience. When I needed empathy, understanding and a listening ear, I felt judged, bullied, and overwhelmed. I knew she was operating out a sense of deep love and concern, but it was extremely unhelpful. I regretted sharing my story with her and I shut down.
As I reflect on that situation, I recognize times during which I did the same thing to another person. In the past, I loved being known as wise and would eagerly give out advice. It benefited me when I solved another’s problem, but I realize now, that I kept the other person stuck.
We want the best for our friend, loved one or colleague, but pushing our solutions never works. It has been hard to see that in myself, but self-recognition is vital to letting go of my need to be wise. I no longer need to jump in and save the day.
Listening with a mind that has been wiped clean is the best gift we can give another. We offer them a sounding board, a safe place to explore options, and ultimately a place where they solve their own problem. When a person comes up with their way out, they are invested and will most likely follow through. The benefit to me is that I can relax when listening for I don’t have to come up with a creative solution. This new way of listening has freed me to be in the moment.
I want to be the friend, mother, daughter, and sister that give the gift of listening. I don’t need to save them, only be the sounding board that creates a space for them to breath deeply and figure out their own solution. In being that person, I am wise.