Jan 30, 2012

The Art of Minding Your Own Business

Today I read a very interesting story in the column of Miss Manners, on the Washington Post. The reader writing was a concerned mother-in-law who was bitching about how far her son and his girlfriend lived from her, how ugly was the decoration of the house, how the daughter-in-law was so disrespectful as to not change her shoes for she had told her that she's too tall to wear high heels, and on top of everything, they haven't prepared for her visit, but pretended to let her choose what she wanted to do. If that weren't enough, she started a fight with her son and the daughter-in-law, and this last one even had the nerve to break down crying "obviously to make her son feel bad". Worry not, Miss Manners put the hag on her place.

Now, I must admit that whenever I read a letter like that I wonder seriously if it's a real letter, or the columnist is taking it out on someone who acts like that. If it's a real letter - which I still seriously doubt - said person should really take a minute before sending it to read it and check on the problem by themselves. If it's not - as I suspect - the columnist should really consider to ban the mother-in-law from the house. However, be it a real letter or not, be it a true story or not, this time around what caught me was a problem that's not only shared by annoying mothers-in-law, but also by many other people around the planet in many other of their relationships: they keep sticking their nose in other people's business.

There are the coworkers who can't find themselves other occupation but to go around gossiping about others, grabbing whatever little bit of information to distort it into a press stopping headline. There's the friend who can't stop talking about their other friends who keep doing this or that, and continually tell them what should they be doing. There's the relative who thinks they know better than the others what the others should do with their lives, and there's also the self appointed guru who may or may not appear on TV telling everybody what should they do, read and buy. And though often these behaviors are masked as "concern" they seldom are, as often they try to make decisions about something that doesn't concern them and for which they haven't been even consulted.

Why does it bother you how someone else decorates their house? Why does it bother you if someone decides to ditch college? Why does it bother you if someone quits a well paying job to follow an independent, artistic lifestyle? Are you living in that house? Does it affect you directly that college-ditching? Do you depend on that income and are really unable to supply for your needs another way?

Recently I was really upset about the HHRR lady spilling the beans about my permit to people who don't need to be involved, along with information nobody REALLY needed to know. It wasn't her business and there was no forseeable benefit she could pull from releasing that information. If anything it was only inconvenient for me and my boss, but it wasn't a fatal wound or anything of the sort. I concluded her life was terribly drab and colorless and she evidently needed some excitement and the only excitement was someone like me preparing for a grand and exciting adventure not everybody gets to live. I still sustain that theory.

Then, after reading this story about the horrible mother-in-law, I started wondering, not why people do that, but whether we do it too even when we don't mean to. When concern ends and being nosy begins? Some time ago I was pondering about the matter, as I was being pulled too deep into the marital problems of a friend of mine. Soon it started to consume me, as she dished detail after detail about her husband's lack of interest, his laziness, his unwillingness to hold his end of the relationship, and even about his multiple affairs. Eventually I was so soaked in her problems that it was all I could think or talk about. It was then that realization hit me - by the way I was looked at by other acquintances - that I was being seen as a nosy person. This is where self examination came into place.

I sat down with myself and pondered why was I so deeply in my friend's problem. Was it my marriage? No. Was it REALLY affecting me directly? No. Could I effectively do something to sole the situation? No. Then what the fuck am I doing? How come I can rely on God to do His part of the heavy lifting in my life, but I can't trust a grown person to manage her own life?

Sometimes we get swirled into other people's problems and we believe it's our duty to get involved and "try to help", but before you become a nosy person minding other people's business instead of your own, consider the following filter questions:

1. Is it a situation that involves you directly?
2. Does it really affect you directly? (Makes you worry doesn't apply. Loving that person doesn't apply.)
3. Can you effectively do something to solve the situation?

If the reply to any of this is "no", then it's not your business, and you should walk away. If you don't you are being nosy, and then, sadly, you are up to trouble as more than once you'll be yelled for it, and you'll be wasting your time and effort concentrating on something that won't yield you any results.


Sartassa said...

I really enjoyed reading that one. I have learned the hard way, that trying to show concern isn't always the right solution. I think I used to be one of those people who cared too much about other's problems, trying to help them solve whatever mess they navigated themselves into. If I met my previous self nowadays, I think I wouldn't get along with her.
The hard part is: deciding when something really needs to be done and when you should just stay out of it.
I once had a friend whom I tried to help and due to this, our friendship became worse and worse. She was obviously suffering from anorexia and I always told her to eat more. In the end she stopped talking to me, had a breakdown and god knows what she's up to now.
So I ask myself: should I have stopped trying to help her and we would still be friends? Would I be able to cope with the fact that I didn't do all I could or did talking to her make it even worse?
Now I just tell myself - if people really want help, they'll go out and get it themselves or at least ask for advice.
As for mothers in law - there is really no, dammit no need that a mother has to tell her grown up son how to live. Agrrrrr, I could tell stories on that one.

Storm Bunny said...

When you have a friend in such a dire situation the point to decide whether you should still help or you are just being obnoxious blurs away much more. The problem is that you KNOW that you can't expect them to go get real help when they need it, because they don't even realize it! Or, like it has happened to me, they ask for your help, but all they want is thir attention, so you try and try and they ignore your efforts to aid them.

Sometimes that's also a difficulty: realizing when the cry for help is actually a cry for pity or attention that makes their staying in such a dire situation worthwhile. Also, one has to ask oneself: is it my place to tell them this? I believe that - as a friend - you do must tell your friends when you see something isn't right, but then, keep on that, insisting, isn't part of the deal. You are a friend, not a family member and certainly not the person itself. What would anyone gain with you insisting when it's the other who should take the steps to change?

You could be blamed and called a bad friend for many reasons, by people like that: you didn't say, you didn't care, you didn't stay... Suffice to know that you did what YOU COULD. That's the extent of your power. The other half had to be done my the other one.

You are a nice, good girl. Let no one tell you different, Trish.