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Meddling in Other People's Lives
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2009

You may or may be someone who wants to or feels you should get involved in someone else's business. Some people want to get involved and others really shy away. In fact, sometimes, becoming involved can cause resentment and may possibly push the person to behave badly, out of spite.

Before you do anything, consider the relationship you have with this person. Is he or she family, a close friend, and acquaintance, colleague, someone whom you know from the community? Consider the personalities that are involved as well and that what may be helpful to one person could, indeed, be painful or useless to someone else.

Next, ask yourself three questions: 1) Are you getting involved for them, or for yourself? 2) Is the person in question happy, even though what they are doing would not make you happy? And, 3) Will getting involved put your relationship with that person at risk? If so, decide whether that is a risk you are willing to take.

There are plenty of examples in which the risk of getting involved is appropriate: interventions for drugs, alcohol, and gambling. If your involvement will hurt the person you care about, think and re-think becoming involved. Most applications require an application of the "zipped lip."

As you re-examine your potential involvement and advice, assess if the disclosed pain is something you want to be associated with forever. For example, most often, if you are going to comment about couple relationship issues, the warring couple makes peace and both shoot the messenger (that would be you). When focusing on parents and adult children, realize that at some point these ARE adult children and discussion should be just that, discussion not pontification.

Additionally, when you get involved (give advice?) you need to know when to stop. Expressing an opinion does not require that the other person take your advice. If you have made your point and you were heard, but the person is still doing what they were doing (and they are not putting themselves or others in danger), move on. Hearing you does not mean they have to agree with you. If they are putting themselves or others in danger, then you may have to intervene, sometimes anonymously, as in the case of reporting child or spousal abuse.

Many people do not think clearly about what and how they say what and they want to say. It is important to think about how you frame your comments. Be careful about not blurting out your comments in a fight. Instead, plan a time for private discussion. Try to express clear points based on your real observations and thoughts, not, in the case of your daughter's boyfriend, "I just don't like him."

When you get into someone else's business you should not have any expectations of the other person's reactions. If you feel it is serious enough (danger, health, potential emotional hurt) then whatever the person's reaction is should be taken in stride. This is about them, not you.

Before you get involved, remember to take a deep breath and think about why you are doing it. If you are truly concerned and there is real risk to the person, okay. If it is because you think you know best and must present your own opinion without any concept of limits, think again.

Think before you act.

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