Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy

Caitlin McLaren - 4A Chemical
Posted on: October 23, 2016

Are your exams done? Yes? No? Are you still alive? If yes, congrats! If no, you’ll make it, I promise. I’m sure after all the studying you’ve been doing, and haven’t been doing, you’ve realized just how many distractions there are. It might be the internet, or the news, or the editor nagging you to get stuff done (just kidding, you writers and copy editors are awesome! I can’t believe how much you all managed, despite Hell Week). Life is full of all kinds of attention vampires that prevent you from doing what you need to do.

Even if you are very self-disciplined and have a handle on how much time you spend on the internet, watching movies, etc., the biggest source of distraction is other people.

We all have that one friend who is constantly full of drama and is always talking about it. Or maybe your family is having some kind of disagreement that you find yourself getting dragged into. Your project group can’t agree. Whatever the issue is, you keep getting pulled into other people’s negativity, nonsense, and self-centeredness. It happens to everyone.

Is it avoidable? Most of the time, it is. However, since we are nice people, we often want to somehow fix things. We listen to someone complaining about where their poor decisions led them, or about still other people’s bad behaviour. We start to become involved in other people’s problems, sometimes to the point where it will affect our own lives.

When this happens, it is a good idea to remember the Polish proverb: Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Other people’s drama is just that. If people can’t manage their own lives, it isn’t on you to sort it out for them. If your friends or family or classmates want to drag you into their unnecessary troubles, remind yourself that it isn’t your circus and they most definitely are not your monkeys.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help your friends in tough situations, or give them a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on. Everyone needs supportive friends, and being a good person involves a certain amount of empathizing with other people and caring about their problems.

However, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind. For one thing, is your involvement in any given issue actually helpful? Is it helping to escalate or de-escalate a difficult situation? Will your presence change things for the better, or just waste one more person’s time and energy? Secondly, even if you can help, is it worth your time and energy? We are all adults, each with our own goals. Is it worth it to you to take time away from what you need to do, in order to do what other people need to you? The answer may be yes or no, and both answers are equally valid. It is your decision—don’t let yourself be guilt-tripped, blackmailed, or just plain pushed into a situation you don’t deem to be worth your time.

That goes for everything, not just drama. Around 50% of everything is complete nonsense. Actual proportions may vary, of course. Your time is valuable; every week has only 168 hours and every hour has only 60 minutes. Once you spend one of those, you won’t get it back, whether you spent it working on an important project, regenerating with your favourite hobby, or just watching mindless videos on YouTube. You have great things you can do with your life! Most things aren’t worth your attention. Don’t waste your life on nonsense. Your roommates aren’t your monkeys, and the fight over the kitchen isn’t your circus. Celebrities aren’t your monkeys, and Hollywood isn’t your circus. Things that distract you from what you really want to be doing should be just ignored.

And yes, you do have the right to ignore them. Run your own circus. What that consists of is up to you. If you don’t pay any attention to current events, that’s fine; as long as you are doing something useful with your time, you aren’t obliged to involve yourself with things just because they are loud and ubiquitous. If you don’t want to pay attention to the news surrounding the upcoming election (what a circus that is, and with such monkeys!) then by all means don’t. If shallow controversies of the day fail to stir any passion in you, then by all means have no opinion. Don’t get caught up in fights where you don’t even have a puppy. A plague on everyone’s house. You have no moral obligation to involve yourself in situations that are not your concern.

Of course, that implies that you must have some concern. You don’t have the right to sit at home and let the group project or your friendships or the world fall apart. Your time is valuable because of what you can use it for. Don’t just repudiate anything that doesn’t immediately interest you; instead, choose what you want to focus on. Pick your priorities. You can always change them in light of new information. But don’t ignore priorities just because something new comes to your attention. Don’t put off important things in favour of seemingly urgent nonsense.

There are two kinds of things: things that are worthy of your attention, and things that are not. Note: your attention. Not just anyone’s attention; your personal attention, the only one that matters. Learn to distinguish between these two groups quickly. The key to efficiency is organization and focus. Organize everything which comes to your attention into “worthwhile” and “not worthwhile.” Focus on things that are worthwhile—that have real consequences, and that you can affect and change for the better. Other things? Well, if you want to engage with them, that’s your prerogative. But when you need to cut things out of your life, “nonsense” needs to be the first to go.

When it comes to exam season, or any stressful time in your life, you’ll need to decide exactly what your circus is. You are the only person taking responsibility for your life, and that should always come first. If your act isn’t together, there’s no time or reason to start training someone else’s monkeys.