Thursday, 26 January 2017

How to deal with other people's difficult issues?

As this blog suggests, I spend a lot of time thinking about happiness. It's my research topic from the angle: how does the environment affect people's happiness (or well-being, quality of life), positively and negatively? Even though I study the built and natural environment, I also think about the social environment, meaning other people.

I believe one of the major life lessons for everyone is to find the right balance between independence and interdependence. How to be our own persons, standing on our own feet, but not push others away in the process? How to ask, receive and give help without becoming clingy, interfering or irritating? How to build our own life, yet be inclusive to others? How to know where the boundaries lie?

Why is this important - or, as I think, one of the most important lessons in life? Because whether we find that balance or not, has a direct and immediate impact on happiness: our own and others.

I used to stress a lot about other people's problems. If a family member was struggling with something (a health problem, an unrewarding job, relationship issues), I'd spend days and nights trying to come up with a solution to help them become happier - or, at least, less unhappy.

Often, that was a source of mutual, accumulating frustration. I would get upset that my family member wouldn't take my advice, and I saw that as obstinate, pessimistic or lackadaisical. Whereas the person I tried to help probably saw me as interfering, overbearing or bossy. I only realised a few years ago that I can't possibly solve everyone's issues and people are, at times, unhappy. The only one who can resolve the unhappiness is the unhappy person themselves.

Not everyone is ready to do it, for myriads of reasons: not everyone sees what's the real source of their unhappiness; they don't want to face the truth; they assume/hope things will improve due to the hoped actions of other people/fortune; they don't believe (yet) that things even could change; or they're worn out by their problems and can't solve it just now.

What helped me realise I can't carry the burden of others' issues was twofold:

  • I believe everyone has their own life lessons to learn and if somebody else's lessons relate to overcoming obstacles or experiencing unhappiness, stuckness, apathy, etc. so be it; and
  • other people are not my extension and vice versa. 

What decisions my loved ones make, is not actually up to me to change. Of course, self-destructive behaviour and unhealthy decisions need to be raised and if possible, stopped. But, at the end, there's only so much outsiders can do to stop an adult from making (good or bad) decisions and living an unhappy life - other than politely offer support and conversation company.

An example. I feel that some family members are overeating, overdrinking, taking unnecessary risks or overly engaged in a conservative religious mindset (the former and the latter relatives are not the same, btw ;) ). I used to stress about those to no end. What could I do to change things? How could I help/force them to see that they are harming themselves by either creating health issues, or by creating social division and discord with their loud views?

The answer: I can't do much. I can only point it out politely and diplomatically, but I can't make anyone change. Change must come from each of us within. If these people don't see a problem in their lifestyle even after repeated discussions, then the only thing I can do is to learn live with it. Change myself, if possible, or disengage, if needed.

However, herein lies the problem: we can't force anyone to change, but I think it's our responsibility to offer a sounding board or a mirror to other people - and expect / allow others offer that to us. How could the people around us ever know we disapprove, if we don't tell it (politely and with a reasoned justification)?

I've also been guilty - and still am - for not raising issues, because I don't want to offend or cause a conflict. But withdrawal actually steals a chance from both parties to learn, grow, change for better.

Here's a spread to examine,

how to more fruitfully deal with someone else's issue?

1. What's the best way to raise the matter with the other?
2. What response can I expect, if I raise it?
3. How to best deal with the response?
4. What sort of a plan I could propose to move forward?
5. What will happen, if I don't raise it?
6. How can I offer better support?
7. How does the other person feel about his/her issue?

We are all different, yet we should be able to live peacefully side by side. Not an easy task!

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