‘Going with the flow’ is unclear and ultimately not that helpful
We’ve all heard people say, “Just go with the flow”. Particularly when we’re in a quandary and don’t know what to do. I must admit in the past I would have just gone along with it — not offering a comment, not giving it air — even though in the back of my mind I’d be thinking this is not helpful. “What does it even mean?” I’d be thinking. To me, it was little more than a throwaway line much like, “It’s all cool, man!” or “Don’t worry, be happy” or even “Be yourself”. Not helpful! So, unsurprisingly, I’ve always dismissed it, thinking they mean well, but I’ve no idea what to do with it.
My beef with this much-used new-agey catchcry is it ultimately offers nothing to the person feeling unhappy or angry or frustrated or unheard. It comes across as lacking in empathy as well. That’s not to say people who say that are callous, uncaring people. It just comes across as dismissive. Maybe they have nothing to offer. That’s okay. Perhaps, say that! If that’s not the case, does the person saying it simply expect me to accept that the answer to my problem/s is to chill out and do nothing? Is that what ‘going with the flow’ means? Because it feels that way. And whose flow is it anyway? Mine? Or, some flow that exists beyond me and everyone else in the world? Is it saying there’s some great flow happening all around us and I’m not in it so it would be best if I did get on it so I can solve my problem?
If it’s my own ‘flow’, how is not simply more of “just do what you’re doing, that’s your flow and you just have to be you”. It’s almost as if the person saying it is tired of hearing all about my problem and just wants me to move on with my life. Which is what the flow feels like to me — my life. A better thing to say would be: “Just play things out or let things play out. Keep doing what you’re doing until the ebb and flow of life provides the course of action for you.” While that’s more honest, in my view, better still is this (spoken in a warm tone): “Look, I empathise with what you’re going through, but I can’t solve this. It’s not my job to do that. However, I could listen for a bit and be your sounding board, if you like. Would you like that?”
That offers so much more. Engagement, for one. And empathy and preparedness to go on the journey with me — at least for some of the way. People who know me well know I’m a big advocate of active listening. In a true journey that two people go on, that would mean both taking it in turns to hear each other out, ideally until there’s some clarity reached. Or, one speaks and then the other offers some feedback and then the other continues and then more feedback is offered. And so on until some insight is gained. The point is we’re sharing and we’re learning from each other. We are, in fact, creating a flow: a back-and-forth; a gentle, respectful to-and-fro. Perhaps even a pathway or map that offers something tangible and engaging and has some chance of finding a deeper understanding of each other. And maybe resolving the problem or at least a way to solve it. Now that’s a flow I can get on board with.