Mind Your Own Business!

I am the soul survivor of a family of “know it all”s. In our tribe, we took a kind of dark pride in thinking we knew more than other people, and we didn’t hesitate to provide information at any opportunity. We were always helpful with sage advice, asked for or not, no charge!

We knew how things should be, and we knew what you should do. And in the odd instance where we didn’t know, we made something up, so we could act like we did know. We’d never miss an opportunity to assist from a lofty perch.

Also we tended to be passionate about what we knew, because it was important, and other people needed to know! If only the whole world would ask our opinion, before doing anything, it would be a much better place.

So isn’t it just perfect that here I am, pontificating, telling you the way it is each week in this podcast?

Ah, but there’s a significant difference, and that is that you’re choosing to tune in and hear what I’m saying. In the publishing world, and podcasting is simply a form of publishing, authors get to say whatever we want, and people can choose to listen or not. These days, if you disagree with what’s being said, you can comment, or start your own podcast, or blog, or Facebook page. Not everywhere in the world, but least in our culture you have the freedom to express your disagreement.

So, I’ve found a way to channel that genetic urge to inform, and it seems to work out OK in this case. Good for me.

But I think it goes without saying that nobody likes a know it all. And I believe the old adage is true that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Hopefully you won’t find me in social settings launching into unasked for discourses about healing, personal growth, and spirituality. Please, if that ever happens, just pull me aside and gently ask me what the hell I think I’m doing.

So far I’ve been talking about offering information and advice, stemming from the need to feel smart. But there’s also a tendency many of us have to offer advice from more of an emotional level, stemming from the need to feel helpful. That doesn’t work very well either.

How does this tendency get started? One of the things that we sort out in childhood is the kind of personality that’s going to win us the most favor in our family, and later, among our friends. This happens without our realizing it, as part of the way we form as human beings. We look around and if there’s a smart sister, and a talented brother, and a pretty sister, we figure out that we can be the “helpful” sister, or brother. We’ve found our nitch, or niche, if you prefer.

We discover that we can be the one who swoops in and helps everyone in their hour of need, whether it’s mom who’s stressed, or brother who’s worried, or… whatever. We pick up on the fact that there’s an opening for us to get seen, heard, and recognized for solving other people’s problems for them, and we begin to work that angle for all its worth.

Like all patterns that get started in childhood, as we grow up, that one goes unconscious and becomes an automatic response to life. We don’t even realize we’re doing it a lot of the time. Pretty soon, we can’t bear to see anyone struggling, and we have an urgent need to rush in and help. One of the places this pattern is most evident is in over-protective, hovering parents. The result is children who either feel smothered and can’t wait to get away, or ones who never learn to fend for themselves.

In the adult world, being overly helpful, or helpful when not invited to be, can also be a problem. Suppose helpful Harriet runs into me, and I’m clearly unhappy about something, in a funk. Maybe I’ve got a relationship problem, or a health problem, or a work problem, or a car problem, or all of them at once. I’m processing. (Please refer to my previous podcast episode on processing.) I’m going through some deep stuff, and some deep stuff is going through me.

Maybe I’m just about to break through and clear it, and have an incredible realization that will propel me to the next level of my awakening.

Then helpful Harriet comes along and looks at me, sees I’m having a hard time, and says, “Oh, you look so sad. What’s going on?” I don’t need helpful Harriet to help me sort out my problems. It may be difficult, but I’m processing, and things are moving along. I’m learning what I’m supposed to be learning, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Now I have to do all that, AND somehow get helpful Harriet to leave me alone, without hurting her feelings.

Or, maybe she sees my problem, and explains it to me. She may have just as well told me the ending to a movie I was watching, and ruining the show. I don’t get the true learning experience I was just about to have. Now I’ll have to go through something just like it later, because her helpfulness robbed me of my experience. Thanks a lot.

It’s OK for us to feel compassion, and it’s OK for us to feel compassion and stand by without saying anything. To let people have their space, and do what they need to do. Most of the time, that’s what we’re looking for. Its OK to give help when asked for, and stay quiet unless asked. And if you’re really, really intent on helping, it’s a really good idea to ask a person if they would like some input – and give them an honest opening to say no thank you, before plowing ahead and telling them what you think they need to know. It’s called respecting another person’s space.

And if you have a need, like I used to, to explain things to people without them asking your opinion, take a step back. Most people are perfectly happy not knowing what you know, and sometimes a lot less happy when you tell them.