We’re all doing the best we can. That’s what I started telling myself over the Christmas holidays.
People catch up with each other this time of year. When they start talking about their problems, I say (or think), “Why don’t you just…?” Then I insert my unsolicited advice. They react with something like, “Well, I can’t do that because…” so, ever helpful, I offer another bit of advice – I’m an endless fountain of solutions.
In a Zoom room full of people I can solve all their problems in a matter of seconds. I think to myself, “He looks like Jabba the Hut, he needs to go on a diet.” “If only she’d pay attention to that child it would stop screaming in the background.” Boom – world’s problems solved.
Here’s the thing. People don’t see themselves like we see them. She may believe kids scream for no reason and it’s best to ignore them. He may think that women are too picky and that’s why he can’t get a date – it’s not his scraggly beard or the extra fifty pounds he put on last year. I look around and want to fix these people. A few sentences from me could make their lives so much better. But when I give them advice, pretty soon they say, “Excuse me, I’m gonna get another beer.”
After visiting with various people over Christmas, a light came on in my brain and I realized that we’re all doing the best we can. The unhealthy, unkept person who’s getting fatter by the second could be lonely. The person who lets her child scream may be so used to the noise that it doesn’t bother her, even though it drives everyone else away.
Advice is my way to band-aid someone else’s problem without having to do any work. If the person eats comfort food because he’s lonely, I could call him more often or bring him a healthy meal, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to say, “Why don’t you just lay off the potato chips and cookies?” No investment necessary. We can say we tried. It’s not our fault they don’t listen.
Come to think of it, this may be a good New Year’s resolution: to stop giving advice unless someone asks for it – which they never do. People don’t want our quick fixes. They want us to spend time with them, to comfort them, to let them know we’re on their side. It’s hard to contact Debbie Downers, but maybe that’s what we need to do, just spend time listening and remind them that they are good people.
Maybe it should be a two-pronged resolution. When people give me advice about how I could improve myself (who, me?), instead of being offended perhaps I can simply respond with, “Hmmm, good idea.” Or maybe I can quit whining, so they don’t have to give me their silly advice.
Give up whining? Nah. Don’t think I’m there yet. But I could possibly let them know, gently, that I’m just looking for a little sympathy, not a quick fix. I could say, “Well, you know, we’re all doing the best we can.”
Because it’s true. We are.
Happy New Year to you all.