We humans don’t always make the best decisions. We throw good money after bad. We fail to save for a rainy day. We don’t floss as often as we should. We do the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

I’m thinking today about the bad decisions we make because we believe we have a power that none of us, in truth, will ever have. That’s the power to change another person; to force them onto a path we would choose for them.

It’s an appealing fiction – it’s always so easy to see what others are doing wrong, and to want to swoop in and help them do things the right way. Sometimes we even have good intentions. If the other person would eat better, or stop drinking, or go to the gym three times a week, they would feel better. If they would put a little money away every month instead of blowing it all, they wouldn’t be felled by every crisis. If people would ensure they themselves are stable before bringing children into the world, so many of the world’s problems would go away.

It would be lovely, wouldn’t it? A team of well-meaning busybodies, fixing everything. But, obviously, this doesn’t work, because we have plenty of busybodies and yet, the world marches on, as dysfunctional as ever.

Meanwhile, if someone you care about has problems, it’s exhausting to be dragged from crisis to crisis. Exhausting and futile. If there were some way to cause them to absorb the learning from your own experiences, and come to the same conclusions you have come to, and then act on those conclusions to behave differently – how great would that be? (This, of course, assumes that you make great decisions most of the time.)

Trouble is, we can’t share our experiences that way. We can tell people how we feel and what we think, but all they can experience is being them and no one else. Anything we have to say is just words. Words that probably sound like that old Far Side cartoon where the guy is talking to the dog and all the dog hears is, “blah blah blah Ginger.”

There has to be a better way. I call it radical detachment. Caring without any hope of changing the other person. Caring enough to hurt for them, while understanding that the power to fix the hurt is all with them. It’s not indifference, it’s a way to care without letting another’s chaos derail you.

Posted by lesherjennifer


  1. Nicely put. I learned this lesson the hard way in my early 20s after many years watching my Dad make poor life decisions. I finally realized that I could still love him and listen and be sympathetic to what he was going through without letting it be my problem. *HE* was the one who was in charge of his own life. It honestly kept me from going insane and from completely destroying our relationship. A valuable lesson to learn so young.



    1. Hooray for that, Erin. I wish I had learned it younger, but I’m glad I learned it at all!



  2. Trying so hard to learn this technique for a sister 13 years older who used me a a “therapist” (even as young as 4 or 5) my whole life. I am 63 now. Whew. Your info is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.



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