Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Drowning Man

Ever notice how sometimes when you really want to do something good for someone in a bad circumstance, instead of doing good, you only end up inflicting more wounds? It's like that old bit of Polish wisdom that says you should never try to rescue a drowning person that is conscious. They'll take you down with them. See, that would be bad for both of you.

So, here's what happened to me. I have this friend who is continually making the same mistakes over and over again. Now, this is a very lovable person, but the repetition is getting a little old. So, I thought I would help him out by giving him the best lesson I've learned this past year, and I learned it from Captain Jack Sparrow. You remember, he's the staggering swaggering swashbuckling heart-throb of the blockbuster kiddie hit "Pirates of the Caribbean." There's this scene where he tells innocent Will Turner that his father was the black-guard pirate, Bootstrap Bill. Of course, Will threw a fit and Capt. Jack had him literally out on a limb in moments. The next words out of his mouth were profound ones. He said, "There are only two things that matter in this life, matey. What a man can do and what a man can't do. Now, you can hang there sputtering about your old man or you can accept your fate and help me dock this ship at Isle de Morta." Or some such gibberish as that. But the important part is the first part. That whole what a man can and what a man can't do part. That, matey, is profound.

You see, we expend a ton of energy contemplating the what if's of life. And, in reality, most of our what if's boil down to how other people are going to act - or react - to the decisions we make in life. As if the what if's determine whether the outcome of our decision or action is successful or not. It does not! We are absolutely in no way capable of controlling the decisions that other people make. We can not even influence the decisions other people make most of the time. The truth is, people do what they want to do, whether they want to admit it or not. All we can do is choose our own actions and responses. In the end, you see, it is not what they do but what we are going to do about it that matters.

The choice is ours. We can choose to accept things the way they are or choose to make things different. In the end, we can't make people do what we want them to do. We can't make people accept the decisions we make. But what we can do is know ourselves well enough to make decisions that we can live with, regardless of the circumstances. And we can only do that once we know 1. what we can live with and 2. what we can live without.

And this place, people, is absolute freedom. It is freedom because it gives us the power to say, "Hey! This is what I want, this is what I need and if you can't accept it, you can go to the deuces." The reality is, no one lives our life but us, ourselves. What we can live with and what we can live without is a complex amalgam of our personality, circumstances, inherent temperament, childhood scars and current resources. No one can assimilate that complexity for you, therefore no one is qualified to tell you what the resulting "live with" or "live without" should be. It is just you and the person you shave with every morning. We all need to get to a place where we can look at that person we shave with every morning, right in the eye, and like what we see. But if you look that person in the eye every morning and ask, "WTF are you doing, you stupid asshole?!?" chances are you need to make some choices. And changes.

And if you choose to NOT make a choice, and if you choose NOT to make some changes, the least you could do is just try not to take anyone else down with you on the way, drowning man. You've got a lifeline. Pull yourself to shore.

14 comments:

Chill Daddy said...

Ah yes, and now we've found some common ground. Didn't you say my 'don't sweat the small stuff' attitude (take care of what's important and don't worry about the rest) was cavalier and unrealistic?

I'm paraphrasing from my unreliable memory obviously, but I think we're agreeing that happy living is a matter of healthy priorities, and healthy disregard for the rest.

bunnyjo georg said...

Mmmmmm...sorta. What I am saying is that when it comes to making decisions, we need to make decisions we can live with regardless of the circumstances. Part of knowing yourself is knowing which "healthy priorities" are yours and which "healthy priorities" aren't. And saying to hell with the ones that aren't yours.

What a man can do and what a man can't do. That's wisdom I can live with.

Foilwoman said...

I disagree. I don't think any of us get anywhere without help from others. We may say: "I did it all myself," but we don't really. Some of us are lucky to have lots of people pulling for us, but many people aren't so lucky. I think it's okay to decide not to help someone, not to save a drowning person, if one really thinks one can't do it or one realistically knows that the chance of failure is pretty high, but to say someone always has a lifeline, that's simply untrue. And heartless. Are you an Ayn Rand fan?

bunnyjo georg said...

Oh, sorry...without the history here no doubt I do appear heartless and cruel. This person, loveable tho he is, does in fact have a lifeline. Perhaps I am feeling a little brown/black/red at the moment and not as compassionate as I normally am. I used to love helping people with all my heart. I must be worn out. And no, I am not a Rand fan. Ick. And I DO agree w/ you wholeheartedly that we live successfully only to the extent that we incorporate our friends and family and coworkers into our life, our needs and our desires. However, I do believe that people, for the most part, want an ear more than they want advice. Or maybe that is just true with my advice. :) That I wouldn't doubt!

Foilwoman said...

Bunnyjo: I don't doubt that sometimes all people want is an ear. But one has to distinguish someone who really needs help from someone who just needs to talk. Two very different things. Yes, people who simply want to complain are tiresome. But sometimes, merely by listening, one helps in that way.

DCveR said...

I know exactly what you mean. That is why sometimes we have to let go. Even if it means seeing a friend bang his head against a wall. We can warn, we can give advice, we can even stay and watch, but there is no point in roping someone to a chair if that someone really wants to ram a brick wall. And if the final decision is the wall... well bruises are the least our friend can expect having to live with.

Im so angry, Im so at ease said...

Its all about putting the world(and the world is always mine for everybody, in an unegocentric view...)on scales. This is not scales of profit or earnings, but co-existing scales. We are social beings who cannot survive withoutout each other, but we also have to survive WITH each other. I think its as simple as that; If I am satisfied others gain, if others are satisfied I gain, and have the possibility to evolve and experiment myself and my style of life.

bunnyjo georg said...

The drowning man I am speaking of is more than capable of taking care of himself. He actually does a very good job of that. The question had to do with a relationship that was making him quite miserable. In this case, I couldn't help him. Only he can make the decisions necessary to make changes that could make life bearable for him. But he was stuck because he was afraid of the potential consequences. What I felt, and still feel, is that if we can't live with things the way they are, not making changes isn't an option. I was frustrated with his continued lack of decision-making. The only universal principle I can pull out of his situation (other than my what a man can/can't do scenario) is that sometimes a helper needs to pull back and let a person do what ever it is that they are going to do, and stop being so embroiled in the play-by-plays. It becomes grueling after a while.

heartbroken said...

We need our shortensweet.

Let's call her 'sweetenlow', I like that more.

Im so angry, Im so at ease said...

Had afriend just like that, if I`m not misunderstanding, who felt everyday was a hellish celebration of all his "wrong"donigs from the day before; he never did anything serious but cut himself to get attention. But ive known three friends of mine who has kept quiet about stuff, and then suddenly taken their own lives. Its a plus when you can talk to the person in advance, but if their minds set stuck on the very idea its very little you can do....

bunnyjo georg said...

angry: I had a friend in high school who killed himself and a very close friend of the family killed himself a year ago, both times without advance warning. I've heard it is always the people who DON'T ask for help that we need to worry about. In my experience, this is true. Also in my experience, the people who constantly cry about their circumstances are often too self-involved to kill themselves.

Bonnie Blithe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bonnie Blithe said...

Before you jump in to that water, make very sure it's a Mounds bar you're trying to save, and not a turd.

and that's all I have to say about THAT.

Mom said...

Bunnyjo, your posting reminded me of a long and weary friendship I once had. The guy lived in a very sad and hurtful past. He came to me because I listened, and spoke endlessly of his past hurts. I really thought I was being a friend. And then I found out that he was a real big-time hypocrite. Long story. The bottom line is I was not the life-line I thought I was. How much of helping people is really making ourselves feel good? I told him from now on I never wanted to hear those stories of his from the past. We started a new friendship based on mutual respect and I really think his healing started when I refused to be his one and only sounding board. No universal lesson here, each case has its own merits. But it just goes to show ya, dabbling in the helping arts can be a thankless and even harmful business. I agree your friend is someone who needs an ear, not suggestions on how to change things. You already know this, I am sure.