Theres an old Polish saying that means, “Not my problem.” In Polish, its nie moj cyrk, nie moje malpy, and it literally means, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
It conjures up the image of a circus run amok with monkeys creating havoc, not unlike moments in our lives when everything around us seems to be going haywire. And there are probably many who see this phrase and think of it as a clever dismissal of any chaos that comes up.
But I dont see it as a “shrug off all responsibility” line; to me its a reminder that we cant take on the cares of the world 24 hours a day. And as Latter-day Saints (and as a Latter-day Saint woman) I see a disproportionate amount of this among our ranks.
We want to help. We want to serve. We want to raise good families. And in our zeal to magnify our callings, make every ward event a dazzler, and convert the entire world, we sometimes heap too much stress upon ourselves. We take on the problems others create, we assume responsibility for actions completely outside our influence, and then we anguish when the heavens crack open and a thunderstorm pours down on our wedding reception, as if we could have stopped it.
Here are two ways we are taking on too many circuses and monkeys: First, theres the group that wants to fix everything. This is a genuine Mission Impossible. But the notion gets a strangle-hold on some of us and we invest months and years trying to wrest a situation into our fantasy. Usually, with age comes wisdom and we realize we truly cannot fix every problem (or person) and we are throwing away productive years when we could have pursued– and reached– more realistic goals.
A corollary of The Fixer Syndrome is the Taking Blame Syndrome. After all, if its your job to fix something, and it goes unfixed, then whose fault is that? Truly stalwart parents with wayward children often fall into this trap, blaming themselves for other peoples choices. But we see it in other places as wellthe stake musical director who blames herself for an actor forgetting his lines, the bishop blaming himself for low temple attendance, a missionary blaming himself because an investigator fell away. We all need the reminder that after we have done our best, that is where our responsibility ends. You can lead an investigator to water, so to speak. Others have free agency and we cannot berate ourselves because they choose to use it.
Do we mourn for the sad choices made by those we love? Of course. But we mustnt blame ourselves if weve done our level best. Remember Noah, who worked his entire life to convert others, and only converted his immediate family. He is still successful in the Lords eyes, but its because of efforts, not results.
When trouble besets those around us, of course we have compassion and take on their cares to some degree. We suffer with those who have trials and hardships. And thats appropriate. If we can possibly take action to help them, we should. And we do. But too many of us fixate on the problem and reach beyond the possible, trying work a miracle. Not all our efforts will result in a perfect outcome and we must stop blaming ourselves for results that are out of our control.
The second time when we need to remember Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys is when we are tempted to involve ourselves in the exciting drama swirling around us. Maybe we need to see it as Not My Business. Parents who hover and control, who get overly involved in their grown childrens lives are often guilty of “mixing in,” and placing themselves where they dont belong. But we do it with friends and work associates, too.
Maybe we fancy ourselves as the only people in the picture with a clear understanding of the situation. Maybe we think were the one who has to charge in and save the day. But thats rarely the case. Weve all been on the other side, havent we? A nosy neighbor or an intrusive relative meddles in our affairs and we bristle. Busybodies are almost never welcome, yet the temptation to be one is ever present.
So how do we unload this carnival and its monkeys?
1.Take an honest, inward inventory. See if you tend to be a perfectionist and work on becoming an imperfectionist. Stop seeing everything as your sole responsibility to fix.
2.Ask if the problem is even your concerncould you be overstepping?
3.Ask the parties involved if they want help before you jump in with it. They may not.
4.Ask yourself why you feel the pull to involve yourself. Is it because you genuinely care about the people in the situation, or are you caught up in the adrenalin of a crisis? Do you need to be seen as someone who comes to the rescue? Or perhaps as someone smart who has all the answers? Sometimes an honest look at our motivation will help us take a deep breath and step back.
5.Do you actually have a solution? Are you experienced enough and diplomatic enough to enter the fray and honestly help the situation? Maybe you actually do have talents that are desperately needed.
6.Consider the possibility that this really is your very own circus and these are your monkeys. Are your kids misbehaving or is a relationship going untended? Perhaps you need to prioritize and take care of your own family so others dont feel they need to step into your shoes.
7.Maybe you need more excitement in your life, more activities and purpose. Sometimes people feed off the drama around them because their own lives are lackluster. Finding worthy pursuits and volunteering for good causes would make these intense situations far less magnetic.
8.Last, ask yourself what will happen if you dont get involved? Would it be a disaster? Or might everything work out? Sometimes we need to give others the chance to think up their own solutions, especially if weve delegated tasks to them. Often they come up with better ideas than the ones we thought were so perfect.
Its always good to know our limitsboth in our abilities and in our wishes. Our best efforts really are good enough, and sometimes the best course of action is to step back and let the monkeys be accountable for their own actions.
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