When does caring turn to interfering?

I have a deeply ingrained urge to help others, to be of assistance when I can. It’s part of being an empath. I feel strongly for others. I have a tendency to take someone under my wing and advise them if they seem needy. There are many people I listen to and never give advice to as they seem wiser than yours truly. But for those who seem like they could use a hand, I advise. I suggest. I hope. I inform. I try and give the information—the benefit of my own experience—to save them trouble. But where is that middle ground between helping and interfering? Between caring and expecting too much? Today I question my own motives in getting involved with others. People have their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn. I want to be able to let people have their own experiences. Will I be able to do this?

An incident the other morning with a long-time friend has me questioning my own motives in helping others. He put his head in the sand at the wrong time. His mare was very sick, and he did what I considered a minimum to get her help. In other people’s eyes, maybe he did a lot. That is debatable in the horse community. His attitude was, it’s his prerogative to expect the best and only change that if things go wrong. My outlook is, if you prepare for the worst, this enables you to manage the best. This comes from experience. You will know all your options and can act accordingly. With horses you must act quickly and monitor constantly. Especially with colic or an impaction.

During the course of the day my friend acted as if he were afraid to deal with his mare. As if the problem did not exist. I guess he could not handle it emotionally. Some folks are like that. But help is only a phone call away. Vets are often happy to give advice over the phone, especially if you have a history with them. The one in question is a super friendly, happy vet that takes calls 24/7 and makes house calls. In my friends denial, he did not call the vet until nine hours after I suggested. In the mean time he gave his mare a shot of something to help with pain and promptly…went into the house to watch TV. Once you administer a shot of Banamine, you must walk your horse and keep her on her feet until she is well clear of any danger. When I arrived a few hours later, his horse was laying on the ground. If a horse lays down for too long, a gut can become twisted, killing them. Keep them walking! I have had sick horses in the past and at no time would I ever be in the house unless I had to relieve myself. I can’t imagine being so complacent as to be inside watching the boob tube until my horse was visibly on the mend, able to be on her own.

When I told him his horse was on the ground he was stunned. Since he was ‘hoping for the best’ that did not leave room for reality. To him, administering the shot was the end of his responsibility. He thought it was a guaranteed fix. In his mind the shot meant being off the hook and treatment was done. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Reality is give the horse the shot, and walk her around, not letting her lay down. All day if you have to. All night if you have to. In the past three people and myself took turns walking a sick horse around for hours in a snowstorm until the vet arrived.

If you put ‘hope for the best’ in one hand, and poop in the other hand, guess which one will pile up faster. You must get off your buttocks and do something! You must take action, especially with a thousand pound animal you care about.

I suggested he do a dozen helpful, very simple things to monitor and care for his animal. All were ignored. After almost a full day of inaction, it was finally clear to him that she was not getting better. He knew a vet visit was in order. He yelled at me in panic, “I did not see this coming!” After nine hours of her not getting better, and me hounding him about it, he had no idea he might have to take her to the vet? How is this possible? He didn’t think to empty his horse trailer of hay, just in case he needed to take her to the vet? Giant forehead slap. Apparently watching TV was more important. Comforting himself was all he knew how to do. He’s big into comforting himself at every opportunity and claims he prefers to “not get involved” with just about everything going on around him. The Universe won’t let you do that.

He thinks anything more than the bare minimum is, in his words “…getting all hysterical.” I almost laughed out loud when he said that because, speaking of hysterics, my friend was in such a panic on his way to the vet that he drove into his own 12 foot wide chain link gate and ripped it out of the ground. Only when things were dire did he wake up. Then his panic got the best of him. He was not prepared and he so easily could have been. The vet had no luck removing the blockage (which can kill a horse), but they would try again in the morning.

Years ago I lost a horse to an impaction, a blockage. So the next morning when I went over for coffee, I asked him if he had prepared himself in case he had to make a hard decision about his horse. I was polite. I asked instead of told. He blew his top saying he wanted to be left alone to drink his coffee. Excuse me, it’s too early to consider that in five minutes you might get one of the most difficult calls of your life? If a horse has a blockage that is not fixable, euthanasia must be immediate or the animal suffers greatly. You don’t have the luxury of hemming and hawing to make a decision, or taking time to enjoy drinking your coffee while the world waits for you. You cannot hide in denial. He still was in denial that his horse might die. He was still in denial he had to interact with the world. In frustration over his stubbornness and lack of caring, I blew my top about his lax attitude regarding his animal and left him as he wished. Maybe not my best moment. Where was my compassion? My guess is it was buried in tons of ongoing frustration. But still, that was not the best thing for me to do.

Several years ago I lost my own horse. The circumstances were similar. I did not prepare myself enough, mentally or emotionally. I thought I had, but I still feel that pain today. I foolishly thought that as long as the horse was at the vet, all was well and I didn’t say goodbye to him. My heart still aches over that. In being so forward with my friend, I was trying to save him from that pain. Maybe that is what is at the heart of my feelings over this incident. My great loss could have been lessened had I prepared better. I didn’t want my friend to have to experience this pain.

I know my friend can handle life at his own pace. I thought all this time I was helping. As much as I was trying to prepare him for the worst, I may have swung over that line and gone into the nosy, interfering landscape. Maybe he will be fine without my help. But it bothers me greatly when the life of an animal is at stake. Today I learned the blockage was shifted and the horse is better. Thank goodness for that! Of all the brouhaha, this is the most important thing. She is still on the mend a full week later.

A recent blog entry by Julie Krupp is helping me process all of this. Check out her lovely blog and the post titled resolving difficult people. It gave me much needed insight about what my core values are (and more). ❤ I am an action-oriented person who is very self-sufficient. Being able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and do for myself was deeply ingrained in me by my mother. Hence, inaction, avoidance, and denial drive me nutty. That would explain the dynamics between me and my friend. Me = action oriented and proactive. Friend = relax and ignore the world until something goes wrong, then panic.

When I first met my friend, he was a newly single person who could not cook one meal for himself. I taught him how to cook and now he’s quite proud of his accomplishments. I showed him how to get around in our small community, helped with dozens of technical things beyond his knowledge and experience, made phone calls for him when he was too painfully shy, helped him grocery shop, and drove him to the doctor. I did so happily. He accepted my help gladly. But I can’t make him have the same experience level as me, or the same desires as me, or the same life outlook as me. He has his own wonderful path to live. Perhaps in future I will assist only when asked. Perhaps some day his quiet nature will be a boon to me.

Years ago a counselor gave me wonderful advice that I still use today. It may help me figure out a new attitude in my struggle to hit the middle ground in assisting vs having undue expectations of others:

“If you have a skill you have taken the time to work on and have mastered, it might frustrate you if the other person cannot match your skill level. It may bother you that they aren’t doing as well as you. For example, if you are a great communicator, and your friend is not, don’t expect them to rise to your standards quickly, or at all. Don’t get mad at them for not being good at something that you are good at. After all, think about how long it took you to master that skill yourself.”

In the bonds of friendship, we care deeply about each other to the point of not wanting harm to come to our friends. I believe that is what motivated me to speak so to my friend. But that isn’t always possible or desirable. Sometimes you have to let people have their own experiences, even painful ones, in order to grow. It’s harder still to watch a friend suffer from something you had to live through. There is a feeling of wanting to protect them. I don’t have any hard and fast answers on helping vs. hindering, caring vs. interfering. Life isn’t so black and white. But I am thankful for the opportunity for continual growth and insight. Be well.