I got a friend. He’s homebound. Can’t drive. Can barely walk.
He called me one day with a problem.
“I got ants,” he said. “Getting in my apartment. Getting in all my stuff. I was thinking you can buy me some ant traps sometime since I can’t get myself there to buy ’em.”
“Sure,” I said.
A few days later I went to the hardware store and bought my friend some ant traps. I took the ant traps to him. He thanked me and repaid me and placed the traps around the apartment. In a few days he called me back to thank me again and say the ants were almost gone.
I got another friend. He’s not homebound. He can get around by himself just fine.
He called me one day with a problem.
He said, “I got ants in the house.”
I said, “Yeah. I knew another guy with the same problem. He got some ant traps and put them around his apartment and the problem went away.”
A few days later he called again. He wanted to talk more about his ant problem. I told him again about the ant traps. I told him where I’d gotten them for my other friend who was homebound. I told him the exact store and the exact brand of the ant traps the other guy used.
He called again a few days later complaining how the ants were in his bread and his sugar. He complained how the ants were ruining everything.
“That’s too bad,” was all I said.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said.
I advised him, “Try thinking about what to do.”
I didn’t hear from him for a long time after that.
It was months later when he called again, saying the reason he hadn’t called was because he’d been upset.
“Upset about what?” I asked. “The ants?”
“No,” he said. “You.”
“What’d I do?”
“You never called me back to find out how my ant problem was going,” he said. “It’s like you didn’t care at all. You cared about that other guy’s ant problem enough to get him the traps, but not enough about my ant problem to even call and find out how it was going.”
“That’s cause last time we talked it was going nowhere,” I said. “And I didn’t wanna facilitate any more of your ant problem going nowhere.”
“You never helped me with my ant problem. You never helped me like you did that other guy.”
I said, “You presented it to me like a problem. We discussed a solution. It was a simple enough solution. You never followed up on the solution, so I had to assume it wasn’t that big of a problem. I had to assume it was nothing more than you wanting to talk about your problem rather than fix it.”
“And you didn’t want to talk about it?”
“No,” I said. “Becuase there was no need.”
“You don’t have time or the inclination to talk about my problems with me, but you went to the hardware store for him. You got the traps for him. You went outa your way to resolve the problem for him, but you can’t even talk with me about mine.”
“He’s homebound,” I said. “You’re not. And I’m not going to chase your tail over some conceived problem that’s not enough of a problem to motivate you to resolve it for yourself.”
“Chase my tail?”
“Chasing the tail of a problem that’s not even a problem. I won’t get suckered into believing and discussing and caring about a problem that’s not enough of a problem for you to do the slightest thing except blather on about it.”
“You do nothing for me,” he lamented.
“And you do as little for yourself as possible,” I added. “So we’re pretty close to even.”
“Some friend you are,” he said.
“I told you the solution to your problem. The other guy I didn’t even have to tell. He came up with it for himself. A very simple solution that, I’ll guess, only took a moment of mental effort to formulate. And I shared it with you. I shared his solution to the same problem as yours. That’s a gift. That’s something. But you were choosing to ignore it.”
“Ugh huh,” she said.
“Since you believe I’m so selfish, let me give another piece of advice. Another very simple solution. And don’t tell me I don’t do anything for you since I’m offering you a very simple solution to a very big problem.”
“What is it?”
“Wish to do for yourself what you can. Things are always going to work out better that way.”
“That’s fantastic advice for never having to do anything for anybody,” he said.
So I asked, “What ever became of your ant problem?”
“It’s resolved,” he said. “When I realized you weren’t going to get me the traps, I went to the hardware store myself. I bought the traps. I placed them around my house and the ants went away.”
There was long pause as I awaited the thanks that never came.