Taking It In Without Taking It On
Having just recently spoken in that city of cities, Las Vegas, I can now assert with great authority that the mystique of the place is just lost on me. I am not simply referring to the fact that I don’t gamble. Las Vegas became far more than a gambling joint many years ago. And my self-assessment is not the result of a lack of effort on my part.
During this most recent trip I committed myself to trying to appreciate Vegas and all its trappings the same way friends and colleagues seem to relish in the opportunity to spend a few days in the city. I tried to be impressed by the fake canal and gondola ride at the Venetian, attempted to lose myself in the majestic nature of a faux Eiffel Tower at Paris, and generally sought out any opportunity I could to be awestruck by the consistently over-the-top nature of just about everything one encounters in Vegas.
But it was all for naught. I was consistently left feeling indifferent or flat about places and things that are catalysts for “oohs” and “aahhs” from just about every other Vegas visitor. While lamenting my seemingly “outsider” nature to the chills and thrills, it dawned on me: I only needed to take Vegas in, I didn’t need to take it on. By trying to “make it” mean something in particular for me I was in fact producing the very barrier that would make such a result impossible.
How many other times in life do we find ourselves taking something on when all we are asked to do (or need to do) is merely take it in? When friends or colleagues share intense feelings about great difficulties they are encountering in their lives, so often we feel compelled to try and produce the right response. The end result is a chorus of “it will be OKs” when few things are probably farther from the truth.
This need to solve problems or fix situations is so engrained in us that we often fail to recognize the many pitfalls associated with it. If I see myself as a fixer of you, it means you are broken and in some assertion of my superior power or being, I can make you better. Now this might have been OK for the doctors who turned Lee Majors into the six million dollar man, but it speaks of a potentially unhealthy paternalism when brought to bear in relationships with our closest friends and colleagues.
Back in my days working on the college campus, I remember listening to a distraught student leader for whom I served as an advisor. When my analytical side kicked in and I started to offer potential solutions, she firmly responded, “Just listen to me. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s all I need.”
For whatever reason though we equate listening with “not doing enough.” Just listening doesn’t let us ride in on a white horse and save the day. It doesn’t allow us to demonstrate that we can help, we can solve problems, we can fix things that are broken.
Upon closer reflection, it is a darned good thing that it doesn’t. Because it allows those closest to a situation the chance to solve their own problems, fix what they see as being broken, and develop their own capacity to do for themselves what has previously been done to them. And they do all that while knowing that we do indeed care ... about them and about what they are dealing with.
Taking it in without taking it on. That’s all we are asked to do.