A few weeks ago, while giving a presentation, my colleague briefly mentioned a Polish Proverb “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. As is tradition, I would give the speaker a sharp nostril sniff, to acknowledge their clever words. Those same amusing words would then be erased from my mind, as swiftly as they had entered, without a second thought.
Not this time. I found my brain returning, retracing its steps, trying to understand why this Polish individual refused to take responsibility for the monkeys. What if the monkeys were loose in the crowd creating trouble? Or even worse, what if the monkeys began terrorizing a small village on horseback! My examples are admittedly said tongue in cheek, but I have a feeling most of us would avoid the monkeys. After all, don’t we avoid “monkeys” all the time in our personal and professional lives? We will explore the benefits of adopting responsibilities, and the reasons why it can seem like a burden.
Let’s begin the dissection...
What does it mean?
Initially, I perceived it as a satirical lesson, a display of how uninspiring an individual can seem when they give in to their Sloth. “That’s not my problem, someone else will take care of it.” This attitude is hardwired in many of us from a young age and is very difficult to change. It could be the result of a parent rescuing their children from all uncomfortable situations, never allowing them to learn the value of taking responsibility. Maybe school was never that much of a challenge. Or the fear of failure is simply too overwhelming.
Then I thought, “What if I perceived it from the eyes of someone on the other side of the hypothetical fence?” Someone with so much diligence, that they make every problem their own, to the detriment of their mental health. They might perceive it as their new personal Mantra, hoping it would finally bring them peace of mind. I’ve read many articles promoting the same Proverb, but instead, most are highlighting the importance of stepping away if getting involved causes you to lose your peace of mind and the downfalls of trying to control what is not ours to control
Their perception of the Proverb is as valid as any, but they are all viewing it from the standpoint of someone encumbered by Diligence. I felt it necessary to give a voice to those of us, more often than not, entangled with Sloth.
I believe there can be a healthy balance of Sloth and Diligence in an individual. The development of a keen eye, able to identify when Sloth is permitted and when Diligence is required, remains the key to finding that balance. Allowing yourself to stray too far in one direction, seems to consistently result in spiritual unrest.
Why taking responsibility can seem like a burden?
Imagine you are faced with the opportunity to give an important presentation in front of your colleagues at work. Someone possessing self-confidence and courage might seize the opportunity without hesitation, while another freezes under the pressure, allowing the opportunity to dissolve. What makes the latter freeze? What burden comes attached to accepting responsibility?
When we agree to take responsibility for something, we expose ourselves to the repercussions, good or bad. If the important presentation goes well, you’ve earned the resulting praise and your confidence will grow from the success. However, if the presentation takes an unfortunate turn, you will be met with, subtle yet apparent, disappointment. Reoccurring disappointments can cause an individual to diminish in confidence. They can develop a habit of inaction, growing stronger with each submission. So, it’s easy to understand how someone could develop a fear of monkeys when every monkey they meet throws feces in their general direction.
The benefits of adopting responsibilities
After a long difficult day of doing teenager things, you return home, greeted by a heap of dirty dishes. You decide to relax for a few minutes, in front of the TV, before confronting the task. Although doing the dishes can often be an unpleasant affair, you understand that it promises to provide a sense of accomplishment upon completion. All of a sudden, an exhausted parent enters the room and instructs you to do the dishes, not knowing that it was already on your radar. The promised sense of accomplishment is now tainted by irritation, simply because we didn’t take responsibility before it was dictated to us. How can we maintain that sense of accomplishment?
American Philosopher,Bruce N. Waller, proposed that “those who can effectively and confidently enjoy a sense of control are generally healthier, physically and psychologically. It has been shown that the more practice an individual has at implementing a behavior, the more skilled they are likely to become at it.” Therefore, our sense of accomplishment can be maintained by proactively taking charge of responsibilities. The autonomy will also inspire self-confidence in addition to the development of healthy habits.
It can often feel like an impossible task to untangle yourself from Sloth, but I urge you to take the first step. Fears can be overcome, and good habits, of acting with certainty, can replace ones of inaction. We mustn’t allow a few failures from the past, deter us from trying in the future. Continually trying will help us grow, from both our accomplishments and failures, creating a positive domino effect. I hope you’ll consider adopting the next “monkeys” you encounter. I bet you’ll even begin to like having them around
Remi Gould, PTech,Technical Planner Missing Link Technologies
Challenge Yourself, Failure, Responsibility, Accountability