I love this Polish proverb! While I wasn’t aware of the saying while my sons were growing up, I certainly subscribed to the thinking. I would find myself, like most parents, in situations where my boys would have gotten themselves in positions where their actions resulted in consequences that were not to their liking. They would then want me to take care of the “problem.” My response was typically something like this, “ And you’re going to explain to me in a minute why this is my problem, right?” They didn’t especially like that response, but it forced them to take responsibility for their actions and become developed problem solvers.
I see similarities in business, when dealing with team members, co-workers, or colleagues where they’ve created a situation and want someone else to fix it, without having any recognition that they were the source of the issue in the first place. We become their co-conspirators by allowing the burden to be shifted from them on to our shoulders!
We step in because we don’t want them to experience the consequences, or we don’t want to make the tough choice of having others be responsible for what they create in their lives. Sometimes taking that tough stand is really, really difficult, especially when the consequences are bad, life or career altering. In the end, it isn’t your circus or your monkeys.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to anyone is allowing them to handle their own circus and monkeys and not take on responsibilities for them. There is no development and growth when you solve the problem, get caught up in the drama or mess making. Supporting others as they develop the ability to resolve their issues, become more self sufficient, and responsible is the closest you’ll ever get to having insurance against being at the effect of patterned problem creating behaviours. That’s very different from doing it for them!
Here’s the sad news. Not all people can be developed. That’s a hard one for me because I love to be an agent of transformation. But they have a vote! You’ve probably been exposed to people who have patterns of behaviour that predictably lead them to breakdowns. These are usually the folks who have little self-awareness that they have created the whole deal for themselves. In this situation, the best you can do is remove or insulate yourself from the circus, being clear that it’s not up to you to train the wild animals and get them to jump through hoops.