When to join the Circus

There is an old Polish proverb that is making the rounds in self defense circles, and pretty much just in general; “This is not my circus. These are not my monkeys.” Of course it’s been shortened to simply “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” but the meaning is the same. What does it actually mean though? After doing about 30 seconds of surfing around the internet, I found this brief explanation;

The idea of the circus is energy, confusion and novelty. You never quite know what to expect – that’s why people go to the circus. When the monkeys are involved, especially if they get loose, there’s a good deal of chaos as well. So much for the literal.

It does mean that I’m not the ring master of this … disaster, mess, ball of confusion. The problems/ monkeys aren’t from my show. I’m just watching – it’s not my job to fix it. It’s a different spin on a common attitude. ‘Don’t try to repair what you don’t own.’

Basically what it boils down to is unless something directly involves me, I won’t be bothered getting involved.  This is not always the case though, and there are times when I should get involved and try to assist another person if at all possible. (I’m not a total asshole.)

How do you decide when to lend a helping hand to someone, and when to just go your own way and not get involved though? That was a difficult question for me to answer initially. In order to decide when to help, it depends on the definitions of a few terms. This applies for when to get out of someplace, when to just go about my business, and when do I pitch in to help.  These terms are “evident,” “apparent,” and “obvious.” For many people these words have the same meaning, but for me they are all ever so slightly different.

“Evident” to me, means that without any confirmation of a situation, it is reasonable to assume that the conditions exist.  As an example, if my wife and I are shopping in a mall somewhere, and we hear what sounds like gunfire from the other side of the mall, it’s time for us to go. We have no confirmation, and cannot verify that this is what is actually happening, but it is evident by the sounds we hear and the reactions of other people. I’m not joining the circus in this case and I will provide for the safety of myself and my family by leaving.  Proximity does play a factor here also. The other side of the mall is very different from next to me at the checkout.

“Apparent” to me means that all appearances may point to a certain situation or circumstance, but there is no way to prove it absolutely.  My wife and I had a discussion about this when driving to a family member’s home. On our short trip there was a car on the side of the road, and it looked like a person may have needed assistance. It was in the evening, and there was a large tree branch behind the vehicle on the shoulder. None of the tires looked flat, there was a spare mounted to the open tailgate, etc.  We did not see anyone around the vehicle as we passed.  While this may be a person in genuine need, there is also the possibility, however small, that this was also a well laid trap.  Roadside assistance in our state is actually pretty good. There is a number on the back of your driver’s license that you can call, and nearly every insurance company has some kind of roadside assistance in the policy. While we could offer assistance, it increases our risk also, so we decided not to join this circus and kept going.

“Obvious” to me, means that there is absolutely no question or possibility of whether or not a certain condition exists.  If I witness a car accident where the smart car in front of me goes off the road and rolls 37 times, I will stop and render assistance. If I happen to see a person being stabbed repeatedly by someone who is defenseless (as in a very disturbing video that I was shown where a man was repeatedly stabbing a helpless woman until the police arrived and shot him,) I will step up and at least try to restrain that individual, if not more.  In these circumstances, it is obvious that someone is in need of assistance. At this point, although it may not initially be my circus, or my monkeys, I will be joining this circus.

Other people may have different standards for when they would or would not join someone else’s circus, and that’s their choice to make. Their risk factors may be different than mine.  Their definitions of evident, apparent, and obvious may be different than mine as well.  For me personally however, in nearly all cases, I will let other people be the ringmasters of their own circus.


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