Why You Can’t Save The World

(The difference between advice and preaching, is in how it’s received.)

Altered level of consciousness.
Pinpoint pupils.
Decreased snoring respirations.

The standard trifecta of an opiate overdose.
I slam the Narcan in his veins and watch him wake up.
He opens his eyes. Startled. Then with a look of recognition.
I stare at him. “Sam, you did it again.”
He looks away and says nothing.

As a paramedic I had seen Sam (fake name) several times and his emergency was always the same. He had accidentally taken enough heroin to kill himself, again. There was no point in lecturing Sam, because I knew I would see him again soon with the same problem. Sam knew he should change, but even with the threat of death, he couldn’t.

You can only help the people that are ready to be helped. And there’s a thin line between preaching and advice. Advice is only going to be taken by people that are ready to receive it. Anything else is just preaching, unwarranted advice. For the most part, we know the things we do that are bad such as drugs, alcoholism, obesity, hoarding, staying in a dead end job, not going to the gym, texting while driving etc. We know these things are bad, but unless we’re ready to accept change, we aren’t going to heed this unwelcome advice. Our mental bonds to these bad habits are so strong, that many of us won’t change until we hit “rock bottom”, and in the case of Sam, even with his life in jeopardy, perhaps never.

One of the biggest changes I’ve made for myself is overcoming a crippling shyness. There wasn’t an actual defining point where I decided to change, I just remember in college thinking “I don’t want to feel like I’m in a prison anymore” and then putting in motion a decade long period of active growth that made me the man I am today. But even today, I have relapses in social situations where I revert to the former me. And that’s ok, because they’re a lot less frequent. But it took a decade for me to get to this point and I still have some work to go.

So how does this apply to you? Well if there is anything you want to change in your life, just know if it’s worth it, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Maybe it’s something as innocuous as talking to women, not texting while driving, or maybe it’s something more serious like opiate addiction or obesity. Any worthy change to the complexity that is a human being, is going to take a lot of hard work. And this goes for the things you want to change about you, and your want to help others.

Even if you’ve found the secret to enlightenment though, may it be Crossfit, religion, or Tony Robbins you can’t impose this faith upon others unless they are ready for change. You can’t go to a street corner with a bullhorn preaching Christianity in Spanish, because no one is going to listen to you. You can’t tell people to eat more vegetables and less processed food because they’re not going to listen to you. You can’t tell people about the infinite physical and mental benefits of working out, because they’re not going to listen to you. You can’t save a heroin addict that frequently puts his life in danger, because he’s not going to listen to you. All of these people have the capability to change, but only when they are ready for it. And the only lasting change, is going to come from an internal motivation.

If everyone could change at the drop of the hat then we would all do it, but we can’t. Because change is a very hard and difficult process. Life is about exploration and some people need to go on that journey to open their eyes. You can give these people the resources to change, but it’s ultimately up to them if they want to change.

You can’t save the world, only those that want to be saved.

[Photo: The incomparable Monument Valley, Utah as seen from the View Hotel.]

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