|Don't wear a cone of shame!|
“I can’t” gets my attention. It alerts me to an opportunity to watch and learn the character of the individual who made the protestation. “I can’t” is a pivotal decision point – what happens next will tell you everything you need to know about the person.
“I can’t” may be a very factual statement and taken without further information is not worthy of judgment; instead further inquiry and observation is in order. “Why can’t you?”, “Are you willing to try?”, “If you truly can’t, what are you going to do about it?”, “If you have tried and still can’t, is there something else you can do to compensate for this deficiency?”
Lack of ability to accomplish a specific task is not disgraceful IF and ONLY IF you have exhausted the alternatives. It IS disgraceful to be faced with an obstacle and throw your hands up without even trying. Too many people are too willing to give up before they even try because this is the easy path – in their mind it negates their personal responsibility. It also indicates that they feel it is someone else’s responsibility to fix the problem for them. Furthermore, if you step in to resolve their problem before they even try for themselves, you are enabling this negative behavior. Shame on them for not trying! Shame on us for encouraging them not to try in the future!
This is not just an issue of parents and children, though that is where the behavior often starts. This is a societal problem and it is rampant.
BOB: “I can’t pay my bills!”
BOB: “We have run up our credit cards?”
SAM: “What did you spend the money on – medical bills, car repairs?”
BOB: “No – nothing like that we took a cruise last year, we bought some new furniture – stuff like
SAM: “So what are you going to do about it?”
BOB: “It’s so bad we might need to declare bankruptcy”
SAM: “Have you tried looking for a second job?”
BOB: “I can’t do that?”
SAM: “Why not?”
BOB: “I won’t be able to spend as much time with the kids if I am working two jobs?”
SAM: “So instead you will shift the burden of paying your bills to someone else through
BOB: “Well, would you be willing to lend me the money till we get back on our feet?”
SAM: “So you want me to bail you out with a promise you will pay me back?
Why is it again you can’t work a part time job to help start paying back the money you
BOB: “I told you I don’t want to take time away from my kids?”
SAM: “So you want to teach your kids that you can be irresponsible with money and it is OK
to let someone else fix the problem?”
This conversation can go on and on with the Bob not willing to solve the problem he created; while Sam eventually having to walk away because the deadbeat will never understand.
At what point do you start to demand a person take responsibility for themselves. The answer is IMMEDIATELY. Empower the person in trouble to start taking actions for themselves – even small actions to resolve the problem will help to give them momentum to tackle the larger issue. They may still need help and we should be willing to help them IF and ONLY IF they are taking direct actions themselves to try to resolve the problem first.
If in the scenario above the debt was caused by a medical emergency, the person in trouble had already taken on an additional part time job to help cover the debt and they still could not get out from under it then we should be ready to step up and help in any way we can. It is our moral and ethical responsibility to help those in need who cannot do for themselves.
The above scenario was one of a financial nature. Let’s look at something more practical. If you see an innocent elderly person being accosted by a thug who is trying to hurt them – should we intervene. I would answer a resolute YES. Have someone call 911 and intervene to try and protect the elderly person if you have the means to do so. Alternatively, if you were at a restaurant or bar enjoying an evening with your spouse or some good friends and the guy next to you starts an altercation with someone who is bigger than him and gets pummeled and shouts for help are you obligated to interfere because you have martial skills and are capable of taking out the bigger guy. Not me. I did not create the problem, nor do I feel it is my moral or ethical responsibility to use my skills in defense of the idiot who started the situation in the first place.
There are many things I cannot do. However, if the problem is outside my ability I do not throw my hands up and wait for someone else to fix it. You start by getting educated. You start by analyzing what is really going on. You start by seeing if there is someone who can give you guidance to resolving the problem. You take action. When your action indicates that there is no way you can do this by yourself then by all means seek assistance. If you have taken action already you will be able to tell the person whose help you are seeking what you have already done – this will show that you are trying to resolve the problem and that there is a bunch of stuff which you have already tried and it has not worked. Your helper will now be better educated on the situation and also much more likely to be willing to offer their assistance. Or you can throw your hands up right away and say “I can’t” and wait for someone else to solve it for you – we call these type of people sheep.
The choice is yours every day – every problem – every opportunity.
Master Scott C. Homschek
Photo Credit: By MythicSeabass from Olympia, WA (Cone of Shame)
[CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons