At what point do you reach a point where you turn to someone and say, “OK, we’re done with this subject. I don’t want to hear anymore pissing, moaning, crying, complaining, or wishful thinking from you about this. I love you, but I am not like one of those Sham-Wow things; absorbent enough to handle all this emotion from you. Make some choices for yourself NOW.”
A little harsh when you see it laid out like that, isn’t it?
Yet most of us have experienced at least one person who never wants to make a decision in a difficult situation. They just want to whine about it, bring in some co-conspirators, and let the situation ride along. Seems silly to the decisive among us. I’ve mentioned writer and photographer Becky Blanton before, and a recent column she did about how to encourage people without enabling them made a lot of sense to me. The line between helping and enabling gets fuzzy and wavy, depending on the situation and the people. In my personal finance writing, I’ve come across plenty of sad examples of people who wanted to help a friend or family member “just this once” and years later, they are still on the hook for money, enslaved by the “suffering” of young children in the situation, their own guilt or outright threats of extortion.
Sometimes, the issues are not as concrete as money or material things. A coworker with a chronically sick child or unemployed husband can rehash the issue in the office, over and over, until it becomes an impediment to a good working environment. A neighbor with long-standing legal problems can make life miserable for everyone on the block.
Blanton points out that the key issue is not taking the problem personally, nor should you accept responsibility for the problem. You can help without becoming the solution, and learn the difference between someone who just needs to vent, someone who needs guidance, and someone who is just plain whining, waiting for a miracle to materialize and solve everything. A whiner isn’t asking for assistance along the way; they want a painless way out, and they want you to provide it, and oh, while you’re at it, they will find a few other things for you to tidy up as well. Learning to separate the toxic trash from the treasured trove of friends is important for all of us. Don’t be afraid to offer the whiners a plate of cheap crackers and cheese and tell them, “Now you’re all set. You have the perfect snack to go with that whine.”