Why we are better at solving people’s problems than ours
Our society today is wired in such a way that people quickly dive into issues or problems affecting others and tend to forget about their own problems, even if they may be struggling to work through their own issues.
This is because as a society, we approach our friends’ problems with clear-eyed objectivity, suggests new research.
But when it comes to finding a solution to our own problems, we view them through a personal, flawed and emotional lens.
The new research, published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that those who are motivated to pursue virtue and go beyond their personal perspective deploy wiser reasoning to solve personal problems.
“Naturally, as human beings, we are wired to connect and we can only do that through people.
There is a deep feeling that humans feel when they help others to solve their issues than own. I guess it’s just human,” says Nancy Chiuri,founder Mama Fitness Kenya.
Previous research had typically focused on how situations can affect a person’s level of wise reasoning, but these findings suggest that personal motivations may also play a role.
Juliet Kinya, a mother of one, says while teaching in a private school in Meru she would share her personal story to encourage her students.
She doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother. Having been born out of rape, her mother hates her. Whenever she shared her story she would notice one of her learners sobbing.
“I let it slip, but one time she decided to open up to me. She told me that whenever she saw me, she would recall my life story and find herself crying because her parents are alive, wealthy and healthy, but her mother is always jealous of the love her father has towards her and has on several occasions accused her of having an affair with him.
The student explained that her mum has never been close to her, so she decided to get refuge from her dad and would always ask him for whatever she needed,” Kinya narrates.
After the lengthy talk with the student, Kinya summoned the father to school and they discussed the matter, where he confirmed the accusations and how he has tried to solve them.
“By the end of the day, the family was reunited under my watch and I’m happy to confirm things worked out. The girl is a happy girl, though I’m still here with my skeletons in the wardrobe, unsure if I will ever get the strength to resolve them,” says Kinya.
Another study found out that people are better at solving other people problems because of psychological distance.
Psychological distance affects how we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete.
The study found out that one reason it’s so easy for us to offer good advice is that we are not responsible for the consequences.
“So, for instance if you advise someone to move on from a relationship that has not been fulfilling, it won’t be us in that room, having the painful heart-to-heart with someone you shared life together.
It won’t be us having to administer ‘tough love’ without support or understanding.
And it won’t be us having to pick up the pieces if things go wrong,” explained the study.
Douglas Mutoka Lipuku, a tutor in a private middle-level college, however, attests to the fact that there are individuals who involve themselves in other people’s problems uninvited, which is morally wrong.
“Wanting to solve other people’s problems uninvited or without them having told you about their issues just because you heard someone talk about it or you read on social media is ethically wrong.
You should first let someone approach you and share with you what they may be going through and after hearing them, perhaps you can offer advice or a solution,” says Lipuku.
“I personally don’t like poking my nose into other people’s issues. But if they approach me even if I may have a hill or a mountain of problems that I’m personally facing, I will put my problems aside and offer a listening ear since they have entrusted me. I think this is how it should be,” he adds.
Avoid generalised advice
Susan Catherine Keter, a transformational life coach, says some people who are better at solving other people’s problems use that as avoidance mechanism.
“It is a way to avoid facing up to their own problems. The advice they give others is intended for themselves,” says Keter.
She adds that advice giving is rarely helpful because critical factors about the unique circumstances of the one being advised are not evaluated.
The advice is normally generic (one-size-fits-all), which cannot work for everyone.
“Listening to advice that does not take into account important aspects about the case is likely to lead to mistakes.
That is why with time, the one who gave the advice gets blamed for misleading.
When one is going through a situation that requires decision making, listening to generalised advice such as what we witness on social media leads to bad decisions,” she adds.
So what is the best way to go about it?
Keter offers: “Sit down and list down everything you have to work with— resources, skills, support systems among others. List down all possibilities and evaluate them against what you have to work with.
Know what is possible for you in your circumstances and what isn’t. Trusting someone else to make decisions on your behalf is likely to lead to bad decisions.”
As much as possible, she adds, it is best to work with relevant professionals since they don’t give generalised advice, but work with you to dig deep within yourself to identify what is the best option for your unique situation.
“Professionals work with you to evaluate even aspects of a situation that you had overlooked or not even thought about,” Keter says.