A young man returns from the war and tells his father that he is madly in love with this girl and is getting married; a few years later, when he is getting divorced, he goes to visit his Dad and tell him about the predicament; Dad responds, “I knew this marriage wouldn’t work”. The young man agitatedly says, “if you knew all along this wouldn’t work, why didn’t you say something, when I came to tell you that I was getting married?” The father smiles and says calmly, “even if I told you at that time, you simply wouldn’t listen.”
One of my favorite people told me this story many years ago.
Often, we are so determined to do something, we are so much in love with a project, a person or a pre-condition, that we are unwilling or unable to listen to wisdom or those who may have a better perspective from a distance, of the potential outcome.
This has happened often at work and in my personal life.
Business leaders, in love with a customer or a specific pet-project, pour tremendous energy into something that you can see for yourself, is not going to work out. However, whether they report to you or, vice versa, often, there’s nothing stopping them from their own mistakes.
In personal life, I also see friends and family embark on obvious disasters-in-the-making; as long as they are not (significantly) harming themselves or others, often, you have to let them learn from these mistakes. This is even truer, for those we love and those that are stubborn by nature.
In Bangla, there is a saying, “Keu Dekhe Shikhey, Keu Thekhe Shikhey” (some learn by watching others, while others learn through their own stumbles!)
It hurts us to see our love ones go through these trials and tribulations; specially since we may know the answer to their quests. Only if they asked and listened!
However, to preserve our relationships and not come off as meddling, we may sometimes have to remain silent, bite our lips and let them go off on their own. This requires tremendous self-control and often the modesty to know that we cannot solve the problems of others – they have to solve it on their own.
When they return after their mistakes, it’s important to avoid the grandstanding, “I knew it”, or “I told you so.”
Most of the time, they realize their own mistakes and are hurting already; as a friend, parent or lover, the most important role we can play is to comfort and solace them in their “loss” and help them build a new path for success (if they ask for your opinion!).
Recently, I watched a (stubborn) friend start on an ambitious journey to do something; anyone, looking from far away, could see that this quest had to turn into a disaster. I had to remain silent; let them go on their journey. At different steps, as the events unfolded, I listened – and learned – but never consented, approved or gave a strong opinion. The journey wasn’t materially expensive – it just cost a bit of time.
If you turn the situation around, I bet, this arises all the time with me!
I fall in love with some story and start following that path. The difficulty is to know about the pitfalls of that journey. One of my thoughts has always been to give my close friends, confidantes and coaches, unbridled permission to critique me – correct me – so I can avoid stumbling big time.
My best coaches, instead of telling that we are about to falter, ask a series of critical questions: have you considered this angle? Have you looked at this possibility? Do you realize that this may turn into that?
I love it, when people ask me difficult-to-answer questions – those I did not ponder – questions that make me sit back and think!
All of this, applies to our work or personal environment. For this mechanism to work, we need to surround ourselves with diverse folks who have the temperament and courage to ask those questions gently, without malice or mockery.
Everyone stumbles in life; since you cannot avoid the stumble altogether, the goal is to have a “soft landing!” This allows us to pick ourselves up, dust off the dirt that we have gathered, and start back on the next journey, on the next path.