At the first episode of the Mind Factory Show held on the last Sunday in January (the show is held on the last Sunday of every month) one of the participants – a member of the Mind Factory team – asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know how you can help an individual to make the shift from a destructive lifestyle to a positive one.
That particular Sunday, we were discussing the ‘mind’ and how it affects the course of our lives: the fixed mindset (the belief that a person’s fate is determined by their innate intelligence and abilities about which nothing can be done) versus the growth mindset (belief in an individual’s abilities to achieve almost anything they desire by making the effort to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills). The first episode of the show focused on the mind for 2 reasons: first, because the whole concept is basically about forging great minds for significant impacts in the world; but also because of the importance of the mind to human life. The mind is the breeding ground for all human actions, ultimately.
So, after I was through with my talk about the mind, this young lady asked the question above. I was not really taken aback with the question, but I was also not willing to dive directly into giving an answer.
Why? Because I believed I had an idea why she asked that question. She was a youth leader of some sort … an exco of a higher institution youth advancement group, a church children group leader, etc … and so I was careful about giving her an answer – I wasn’t sure she was really ready to begin to ‘change’ people. So, I just explained to her that changing people is not really that easy but that she could get there by staying with the Mind Factory programme, as that was part of the reason for starting the programme. I meant that sincerely.
Anyway, after the programme, I thought over that question and since it falls in line with a post I was working on, I decided to share it on my blog. So, if you had a mind to ‘change’ the world; or you just want to improve a friend’s or colleague’s attitude; or you simply want to put an erring kid back in line, here is a 3-step process that you can use.
1. Make Sure You Have It
I’m sure you’ve had the saying before: “You can’t give what you don’t have.” Well, it’s not just a cliche; it’s a truism. Don’t try to change the world – or anyone for that matter, not even your dog – until you’ve changed yourself.
That is not to say you have to be perfect, but you must at least strive to practise what you preach. You must buy a truth first, before trying to sell it to others.
How would you feel about a man who advises you to clean your backyard when his living room is debris unlimited? That is exactly how you’ll end up making others feel about you if you’re trying to make them better, but you’re not working on yourself. Your intentions notwithstanding, people will try to read you once you reach out to them. And if what they find on the pages is poor content, they will see you as a hypocrite. They won’t mind you, at all. Thank God if they don’t hate you for being a two-faced bastard.
This is why maturity and experience matter a lot. It is so easy to believe that you have all the answers until the questions start coming in.
For example, if you grew up reading romance novels and romantic content, and/or you studied some psychology and read Q & As of relationship sections of magazines, you are likely to be cocky about relationship issues. You tend to believe that your ‘expertise’ in handling your dates/lovers has made you some kind of a champion – you feel eager to school married couples on their relationship issues. But one year of marriage will humble you! Experience taught me that.
In a nutshell, make sure you have adequate knowledge, maturity and experience to help others. And be sincere with yourself.
You want to help someone to grow and be better than they presently are? Then encourage them.
I know sometimes we truly believe someone needs some talking to, and sometimes that feels like all we can do, but I’ve found that encouragement works better – always!
If all I said in number 1 above means anything at all, it is that we don’t know as much as we think we know, either about people or the issues of life. We really must be humble when dealing with people and the problems they go through. No wonder we are admonished in the bible not to judge anyone, lest we also should be judged. Nobody wants to be judged; we all want to be understood and appreciated.
“But some people really deserve to be judged for their actions!” you say.
Yes. And that is why we have laws and courtrooms and lawyers. I’m not talking about the justice system; I’m talking about inspiring people to become better humans, for themselves and the society.
Not too long ago, I set out to ‘rehabilitate’ this alcoholic in his late forties. His wife had left with their baby boy and he was still living in his father’s house, without a job. He was in a mess and that obviously is saying the least.
Of all I could say to him when he was finally sober enough for me to talk to him, I told him I understood what he was going through and how he must be feeling. And this because I had gone through my own battles – I shared some real life challenges of mine with him – and because we are just humans trying to survive in a difficult, painful world.
We talked some more. And he opened up to me. He shared his problems and his pains. He was almost crying as he spoke with bottled emotions. He told me he knew alcohol was ruining his life; his wife had left him with their son and he lost his job, couldn’t get another one. He was ashamed of staying with his father when all his younger brothers were married and in their apartments with their wives. He confided in me that he was not a happy man.
And then he asked me for something… but I will share this in the third process. For now, let’s continue with encouragement.
So, encourage; don’t condemn or confront.
This is a great skill in having this kind of conversation. But you should do so as more than just a skill; it must be an attitude also. If you’re mature enough to accept your own weaknesses and limitations, you will realise you have no right to treat others with anything other than sympathy. Or better still, empathy. Developing the attitude of being genuinely concerned about people’s plight makes it easy to deploy the skill in dealing with them.
3. Come With Answers
Believe me, it is frustrating and sometimes highly annoying when people come up with problems but not a single solution. Who wants to be burdened with problems without possible solutions.
So, this alcoholic told me how he had tried but couldn’t help himself. And then he said: “You have come to help me; I’ll do whatever you say that can help me.”
And that is it: People don’t expect you to come to them to hear their story or add to their sorrow; they expect – and virtually demand – that you help them.
If you don’t have answers to their problems, don’t go to them.
In other words, if you approach someone with a particular problem or challenge, go with at least a possible solution to their challenge. Or why would you just go to tell a person that they have a really bad problem. They already knew; they don’t need you to tell them. And if they knew a way out – no matter how obvious that may seem to you – if they knew, they would have changed before you met them.
People in a destructive situation don’t either know they’re in a mess or they don’t know the way out. If you know the way out, and approach them the right way, they will follow your lead. If you don’t know the way out for them, then leave them alone. Don’t add to their pain.
But if you truly desire to help; you can put in the work and find ways to help people get better.
And that way, you will discover you have tremendous power to make the world a better place.