Some people think it’s okay to give unsolicited advice and dole out “zingers”. I do not. Advice I didn’t ask for sounds more like judgments about me. And I abhor people who think they are being clever when you ask them a question and they respond with something like, “It’s not rocket science” or “That’s highly unlikely” (when you know it isn’t). Others recite something a friend said to other friends in front of them in a group discussion.
So, naturally, that kind of behavior sneaked into my personal life.
When I had shoulder surgery in 2018, a friend who was both a teacher of metaphysics and my caretaker came to see how I was doing. Two other friends chatting amiably about their house, and the caretaker mentioned how much she loved her home.
I responded with, “Seriously? You’ve told me nothing but complaints about it – how far away from town it is, how you don’t have enough room, and how things need to be fixed.”
It wasn’t only that I reflected her behavior. I had also embarrassed all three friends! It’s true that I was on opioid Rx painkillers for my shoulder surgery but embarrassing my friends was not cool.
I just hadn’t gotten the message yet and I continued to point out the inconsistencies in friend’s lives. Like when my house had foundation issues in 2020. A woman I respected and looked up to, a friend I had known for a lifetime, commented that the house issue reflected “no foundation in my spiritual life.”
As a lifelong spiritual seeker, I felt offended. As a psychotherapist and one who analyses her own dreams, I knew the house symbols and that her interpretation wasn’t one of them. But the impact of her comment — because of who she was in my life — made me angry.
In response to one of her communications about her perfect life, I felt obligated to point out the inconsistency of her behavior (“my life is so perfect”…NOT!) and responded with “How’s the tumor in your belly?”
Razor-sharp, the sting of that zinger brought my attention squarely to what I was doing… and I cringed in horror! My chest felt tight; I couldn’t breathe. I could not believe what I had just done!
Yes, I can track what a group of people is saying and recite it back to them. Yes, I can follow and reflect a client’s words to help them solve their problem. But there are instances where none of those is appropriate.
And last week, I took a friend to Little Rock. All the way there and all the way home (three hours total) she was giving me unsolicited advice. And when I took her home, she spent a good ten minutes telling me what words I am not allowed to say in front of her. I had never uttered those words in her presence. (I know you’re curious so I’ll just say “F-word” and “G–D” words .)
I could have lashed out at her but I didn’t. Instead, I smiled and let it go while making a mental note: “Don’t ever take her to Little Rock or anywhere else!”
There’s a scene in Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) that was a highlight in learning the rules of social communication. When Tarzan was taken to England, he didn’t know how to behave at the formal dinner table with so many accouterments. When he picked up the soup bowl instead of using the spoon, the Sixth Earl of Greystoke said something like, “Quite right,” and did it, too. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.
Takeaway: Don’t criticize your friends!
Allow others to be who they are. (But you are not obligated to do as they do, unless you choose to, as in the Earl’s gesture of “siding with his guest.”)
I believe the best path is to focus on what you’re being and doing and let others be and do what they choose to “be and do.” If someone chooses to “act out” we don’t have to respond or take offense. We can just allow them to be who they are.
From the Christian perspective, it’s “Judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1-3)” or, simply, the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”