Recently I had a friend say to me, “You’re going to hate what I’ve done.” Would I? Should I? Do I have the right to hate any decision she made?
Steph has a sixteen-year-old daughter who is behaving like many teenagers – rebellious one minute, gooey-goodness the next. Good decisions, bad decisions. She began to let her grades slip and then the pandemic hit. She was having to do her schoolwork at home and was NOT motivated. My friend would wake her up every morning, sit next to her and watch her do her homework. Steph would ask the teacher’s questions, learn the material. While my friend was not doing all the work, she was doing a lot of it. I teased her about having to pass chemistry a second time.
The daughter begged to take PE/Health online during the summer. That’s a common choice and allows the student to take a different elective. It’s a three-week course and it’s dang easy. The daughter tells Steph she’d done all the work. Then Steph gets an email from the teacher. The daughter had done some of the work. Not all. Not enough. The daughter would get a bad grade, her GPA would go down, her ability to get a Hope Scholarship would be jeopardized.
The daughter is a rising junior. If she would buckle down and make some A’s, she’d overcome this little crisis.
Instead of letting her daughter face the consequences, my friend did the work for her. She actually opened the computer, pretended to be the student. Guess what, she made an A! Shocking!?
My friend was right – I hated that. I started to lob questions:
Soon, thankfully, I caught myself. I was being a judgmental asshole. First of all, it’s none of my business. Second, I don’t know the entire situation at their home. And, seriously, how many times did I rescue my kids from their stupid decisions? Who am I to give any advice at all?
You know what makes this worse is that Steph never once asked for my opinion. We’d been discussing the situation with her daughter for weeks. I’d been giving my I-know-everything advice. Did she even want it? Was I too busy being the know-it-all to see she just wanted me to listen? Did my attitude make her feel worse instead of better? Did I make her feel judged?
Of course, she felt judged. I was, after all, judging her. I was wrong. Very very wrong.
The very day my friend told me I’d hate her decision, I read this:
Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is Empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. ~ Bill Bullard
I want to add to the quote – Giving an unwanted opinion is the highest form of conceit. Giving an unwanted opinion is about the giver’s ego. Who was I to think I knew better? Do I have my friend’s daughter’s best interest in my heart? Maybe, but not as much as her mother does. Who am I to act as if I understand the dynamics of an intimate family relationship? Who am I to pretend I know any damn thing?
If I had my friend’s best interest at heart – instead of my own damn ego – I would have listened and told her of all the struggles I had with my own kids. And, let me tell you, my kids had some struggles!
I have made a sincere apology to my friend and have asked her to tell me to ‘shut up and listen’ when I start to give advice.
The dilemma, of course, is that sometimes I do have good advice. I’ve raised my kids and they turned out fine. I do have some lessons from battle that would make the war easier. How do I impart my wisdom without being that judgmental jerk?
First, ask. Before I say anything now, I ask this – “I have some experience with this. Would you like me to share or would it be better for you right this moment if I’m just a shoulder?” I’m careful to mean the question – being a shoulder is often the best idea.
If permission is granted, then I give my advice with an attitude of I don’t know everything. Instead I say: “This is what worked for me … This is what didn’t work for me …”. I don’t pretend to have all the answers because all I have is what worked in my little world.
Advice should be an interaction not an instruction. Instead of saying ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’, I try to offer ideas and listen as my friend thinks through the idea for her situation. After all, she knows what her kids need, how they might react, what support she may or may not have.
Be creative and laugh. Once we walk through some ideas and she settles on an idea to try (she settles, not me!), I start to get silly creative. I suggest the most ridiculous idea and we play out the reactions. By the time we are done, my friend has a workable idea she feels good about and we’ve begun to laugh instead of cry.
Lastly, I follow-up with another offer of a shoulder and not an offer of more advice – unless she asks!
Now my friend can come to me and get what she needs and not what I need.
I have reached the highest form of knowledge: Empathy.
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You sit listening to the whining for the thousandth time. But the person refuses your or anyone’s advice. Do you want to pull your hair out? Or, better yet, do you want to pull their hair out? My grandmother used to say she would “snatch me bald headed” – I get where she was coming from.
I’m not saying that my advice is always the best. But if you choose not to take the advice – or any advice – then you lose the right to whine, right? For goodness sake, try something!?
I wish I was talking about a friend. But, sadly, I’m talking about me. I’m the one who asks for advice, ignores it and then whines.
For example …
I complain to my trainer that my cardio is not hard enough anymore – he gives me lots of ideas. I do none of them and then complain again!
I know I’m more productive and happier when I get up at 530am. Many people suggested, wisely, that I get up at 530 every morning, seven days a week. Stay consistent so that my internal clock helps me. I have yet to do that and still I complain.
People have suggested that I do all the prep work for meals on Sunday. I know this helps me eat at home and make healthier choices. It’s Monday, I have not done that and later today, I’ll complain about having to chop bell pepper and onion.
I’ve visited several registered dietitians, and each has given me excellent advice. I’ll take their advice for --- um --- 2 days?
The list is endless.
As I write this, I realize I’m whining about whining! UGH!
Sure, I’ve been given bad advice (or bad for me) and that should be ignored. But I’ve also been given excellent advice by people who have my best interests at heart and/or who are experts I trust. What’s my problem?
Do I do this because I don’t really want to change? Too lazy to change? Afraid to change? Afraid I won’t be able to change and don’t want to face failure? Am I afraid of success? Do I like whining?
Over the last several days, I’ve made a mental list of advice given and not taken. I’ve looked at my bookshelf and noted all the books recommended that I bought, read the first chapter, and put back on the shelf. I’ve noted all the supplies I’ve bought and not used (think of the money I could have saved). I’ve made commitments, secured accountability partners. I’ve planned rewards for “good behavior”. And still …
It’s 2020 (yikes!). As most of us do, I’ve thought about what I’d like to do differently or to achieve this year. I don’t resolutions because I know I won’t keep them and then I start the year off in failure. Yet, achievements don’t happen without some conscious effort. Life moves on and we stay on the same trajectory unless we intentionally change that direction!
Here are some things I’d like to do/have/achieve this 2020:
I think this is a very doable list. The first two are already on their way to completion and I have the support to see it through.
Hiking is a back pain and time issue. I’ve already mentioned to my trainers that I need to focus energy on strengthening my lower back. But I whine about the temperature (even though I live in Georgia and have clothes warm enough for an Alaskan winter). I like to say “I’m too busy” but I should say “I’m too lazy”. Even though I live in Atlanta, there are a myriad of hiking trails within a thirty-minute drive. I don’t need advice – I need to get off my ass and hike.
Body image and eating issues are on my list every year. As you can imagine, I’ve asked for and received excellent advice on how to address these body/health related issues. I’ve followed none of these for any consistent length of time.
Why Can I Not Do This?
I can do this! Of course, I can! The question is WHY don’t I do this? I look at my body and hate what I see (even when I’m thin). I have great advice on how to combat some of that. Why do I ignore it?
Those questions would be answered if I took the DAMN ADVICE!
I searched my mental list and my bookshelves. I’ve searched my heart and mind. My mind is willing. My heart is afraid.
A wonderful nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders recommended Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN. Over a year ago, I bought the book. I got all excited, jumped in with both feet. I read to page 27.
This is my pattern – get excited, jump into the deep end and drown. My father must have warned me about this a hundred times. I get bored, or I realize I made a choice that didn’t fit with my personality, or I say yes without thinking. I bail. I feel guilty for bailing. I do this again and again.
I’ve pulled Body Kindness off the shelf. I pulled a little notebook out of a drawer for the activities/journaling. I’ve looked at the book and I think I can do this in bite-size pieces (instead of jumping into the deep end).
Now, how do I make myself do it? I can already feel the resistance – my chest is tight, and I can feel anxiety moving into my limbs.
All I can do is try, right? Read some today and not worry about tomorrow, right?
I can hear my therapist now – “journal about how it makes you feel – keep asking yourself ‘why’” – advice I likely won’t take.
Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results ~ Einstein
“’Big sister, I love you but you’ve always held a mean grudge ….’”Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley
Recently, we bought a bug zapper that looks like a tennis racket! Ahh, the joy we get when we hear a bug sizzle – especially the wasps that like to live on our patio. In order to kill a wasp, you have to bounce him a few times. Each time, we get to hear that sizzle. I never realized my husband and I had a touch of sadism in us!
My daughter-in-law told me of an altercation she had with one of their friends. The man had been a jerk and she let him know it. He got defensive and added a few poisonous stings of his own. Sound familiar?
The man’s wife defended him. My son defended my daughter-in-law. That’s how it should be. We defend our spouses in public … and in private we help them see both sides (or we just tell them they’re plain wrong).
Now they are avoiding each other, which puts my son in a bind and the other couples they hang out with in the middle. My daughter-in-law feels guilty. These are all young couples with young kids. They are all in law enforcement, many of them co-workers. They need each other. So, in uncharacteristic fashion, I gave some advice. I NEVER give advice to my grown kids unless they ask. I hated it when my father-in-law did that. No matter how well meaning they are, an in-law giving advice feels like criticism.
When she told him he was a jerk, he did what any creature would do – he defended himself. Just like those wasps do when we enter their territory. She stung him … he stung back. In retrospect they likely both see where they could have done something differently to have a better resolution. But, as we all do, we hold on to that pride. We keep that bug zapper in the ready position.
The problem is not resolved and the friendship may not survive. A lose-lose. The situation that caused the fall-out seems like a big deal today but in six months, a year, it will seem like nothing. Bigger issues will come and this one will fade to the background.
What if they just went ahead and let it fade to the background now. Do they have to apologize to move on? Or can just moving on be an apology in and of itself?
Maybe they can just take the stingers out of their hearts, put down the bug zapper and enjoy a beer.
That advice sounds so pretty … so right … but is it?
Some animals barely do any damage with their sting. On the other hand, some animals sting and leave behind a stinger of poison. Words are the same. I wanted to tell my son and his wife that they decide what is a simple sting and what becomes poison. They can decide not to let words bother them. But, I don’t think that’s true. Just like I don’t get to choose what type of wound an insect causes, I don’t really get to decide what words will hurt or for how long. The sting comes too fast. The stinger appears before we get the chance to decide its penetration level. A hornet hurts for a long time. An ant is soon forgotten.
I thought of all the people I’ve lost because I refuse to put down the bug zapper. I do know that I sit here alone because I refuse to take my own advice. Over the next few days, I’m going to make a list of those people I wish I had back. I’m going to find a way to apologize. I may never have the relationships back, but at least I’ll put the bug zapper away.
But wait --- hold on --- bug zappers exist for one reason --- they protect us. Maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t make any apologies. Maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to lose people in our lives – I don’t want wasps on my deck and I don’t want waspy-friends either.
Have you ever been stung by a wasp? A hornet? A yellow jacket? Those things hurt like hell – and they hurt for a long time. When I was about 8, I stepped into a yellow jackets nest (who knew they nest in the ground?). After I quit screaming and running, my father picked 18 yellow jacket corpses from my body. A lesson not forgotten.
I avoid yellow jackets. I pay attention when I walk across a yard. I keep my bug zapper close at hand. Nothing you can say or do will make yellow jackets my friend. I will never see those bees positively. They can go pollinate somewhere else.
I’ve told my daughter-in-law, essentially, to forgive and forget. Is that healthy? Is it even possible? Is it desirable?
Only she can decide. Only she knows how badly the stings hurt. Only she knows the value of the relationship. Only she can protect herself.
I’m still going to make the list of people who live behind my bug zapper. I’m going to consider the sting, the poison. I’m going to consider my culpability. I’m going to make an honest assessment of the situation.
This time, though, I’m going to decide exactly what kind of insect they are. Maybe their barbs were small and inconsequential. Maybe their barbs burrowed deep and still hurt. Maybe I want some of them to continue to dance on my zapper. Maybe I want to have a beer. I get to decide what bugs live in my space.
I know, too, that people hold a bug zapper against my stinger. That’s okay. I deserve it and my words may have left too big a scar.
Note: my husband informs me that yellow jackets are not bees and he’s not sure if they pollinate – but, reader, you get the point, right?
I love Sweet Dreams by Kristen Ashley
See you in 2018 ~This is my last post for 2017! What a year. Thanks to all the support and encouragement. I'll be back in January and hope to make several enhancements to this blog so that it's useful to many. Have a great holiday.
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