Two days ago I posted an illustration that got some interest. It was a scenario where a man with a rope tied around him gives another man the end of the rope and then jumps off a bridge, leaving the other man to keep him falling to his death. The man holding the rope offers to hold the rope long enough to let the other man climb back up. But the man on the rope refuses. He just wants the man on the bridge to continue holding him.
Let’s Talk About Boundaries
The story was a simple illustration to show how people so easily make their lives our responsibility and to help open up a discussion on boundaries. I had no intention of providing an answer to the dilemma.
But within minutes of posting I got a comment back on my Facebook fan page from a woman who said she didn’t want to wait for my answer to the dilemma! She didn’t appreciate the cliffhanger! She wanted to know what I would do.
Given her question, I decided to postpone my other thoughts on boundaries to tell you how I would process the “rope” dilemma. Once I started thinking about my answer my mind flooded with decision-making principles.
Let Him Drop
What’s the right answer? Should you hold the rope or let it go? My quick answer is: let him drop! If I gave him a chance to climb out and he just wanted me to hold him indefinitely, that’s not fair. HE put himself in that situation. It’s not my responsibility. I have no problem letting him drop because I refuse to take responsibility for something that he threw in my lap.
I see people holding ropes like this all the time. Parents hold their children, children hold parents, etc., pretty much every family scenario. It happens at work and among friends as well. People need both the wisdom and courage necessary to let the rope go without feeling guilty. Hopefully you’ll gain both over the next few posts.
But…and this is where it gets messy…should I cut the guy some slack? Maybe he had a bad day, or a bad year, or a bad decade. Maybe he’s not functioning at full capacity. Should I give him a few minutes to think it over? A day? A week? More?
If someone has ever handed you a rope, you know how sticky this gets. I don’t think there is a “right” answer. Everyone has to answer that question for himself or herself based on their values and priorities. And no one should judge another’s decision because we all consider different factors leading to our decision. We each have to decide for ourselves what the cost and benefits are of holding the rope.
I mean, think of it…the scenario raises a lot of ethical issues. For example, if you think you would be inclined to let the man drop, would you let go if he was a famed neurosurgeon? The president of the United States? The president of Cuba? Ahhh…you see? It’s not so simple.
What if the President Hands You a Rope?
I recently heard Hilary Clinton answer why she took on the grueling job of Secretary of State after she swore she never would. Her answer was similar to many people who have taken a post at the request of the president: Because the president asked. You don’t easily turn down the president.
In essence, the president handed Clinton the “rope” with the United States hanging in the balance. She wasn’t able to let go. I probably would have done the same.
Some Ropes Are a Calling
Sometimes, in a case like Clinton’s, the rope is a “calling”, something “bigger than life” that maybe God has asked you to do. It’s a life of sacrifice for a greater good. But these “callings” are the exception. If you see every rope as a calling you’ll never make it to your first appointment of the day!
So the question is: how do you know the difference between a calling, being helpful, and enabling someone who is trying to pass off their responsibility to you? I’ve got a number factors to discuss in upcoming posts that might help you decide whether you should hold the rope in your hand.
Be sure to tell your friends to get in on this discussion of boundaries and subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss anything. I’ll send you a free e-book, Forgiven…once and for all, when you do.