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May the world be kind to you, and may your own thoughts be gentle upon yourself. - Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Monday, February 9, 2009

Meddling - 5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Offering Helpful Advice

Meddling - 5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Offering Helpful Advice
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Again, I found myself meddling in the affairs of others. All too often my intention to be supportive and generous runs amok. In the aftermath, I tell myself that I will never do that again, but I do. Actually, I wouldn't want it any other way. The line between "helpful" and meddling is so easy to cross. The only way that I could ensure that I never meddled would be to completely disavow being helpful.

Byron Katie speaks of "my business, your business, and God's business." Everything that happens in the world, or doesn't happen, is NOT my responsibility. There are more than enough things that are my responsibility. I am responsible for my thoughts, my beliefs, and my actions - and that is enough. It does not serve me to mind anyone else's business. I can only make myself unhappy by trying to second guess what anyone else thinks or does.

That's all easy enough to say in the abstract, but when the other person is our friend, spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or co-worker, it doesn't come at all naturally to remain detached. For many of us, staying in our own business requires a lifetime of self-reminders.

Often we meddle out of a sincere desire to help another, so how can we know when we have gone too far? We have overstepped our bounds whenever we cross the line from assisting others in getting what they want to believing that we know better than they what they SHOULD want.

Through painful experience, I have found five questions to ask myself to help determine whether I am providing assistance or meddling.

1. Did the other person ask for help, advice, or opinion? If the answer is No, then I am meddling. The first and greatest rule is,
Unsolicited Advice Is Always Meddling
2. Even if the person has broadcast a request for help or advice, did they ask for MY advice? When someone is drowning, they will accept a life-ring thrown by a stranger, but advice is only appreciated if the asker fully trusts and respects the advisor.

3. Do I fully respect the other person? While I can responsibly make decisions for a child or a senile person, it is pure meddling for me to believe that I know better than another competent adult how they should live their life. As an example, trying to find friends for someone who has clearly expressed a preference for solitude is meddling.

4. Is the issue a question of belief? Proselytizing is always meddling. My beliefs about religion, politics, the best natural supplements, or whatever, are just my personal beliefs, nothing more. If someone ASKS, I am happy to share about what gives my own life joy and meaning, but whenever I attempt to convert someone else's beliefs, I must be very clear that I am doing it for my own gains, and not as a service to the other.

5. Have I previously attempted to assist this person with this same issue in the past? If I have been asked again, and if I find a different way to be helpful, it's not meddling, but if I continually offer the same advice for the same problem, it crosses the line into meddling.

Compassion and generosity may well be the greatest human virtues, but it is also important to avoid letting these noble instincts cause inadvertent harm to those we want to help.


  1. Thank you! I am printing and keeping this. I can see where I have meddled when I offered opinions and assistance. I will keep these close and in mind. If I can memorize these, I will better control giving undesired advice to my adult children! ;-)

  2. I have to agree. This was so to the point and straight to the heart. Thank you for being so out there with your words!!!

  3. Unsoliciated advice is also a form of control/scrutiny. When you remove the 'Wizards bells, whistles and promises', often the lack of trustworthiness is revealed. It is quite a life lesson.

  4. I was about to email this page to a friend who works overtime giving advice and then I stopped!
    Oh my goodness . . . I had to admit she has never asked for suggestions on how to mind her own business so I will just continue to love her and keep my advice to myself.

  5. Regarding Anonymous August 24, if your friend is
    a true friend that you can trust, then e-mailing
    her the above message should not be a problem, she would actually appreciate it. However, if she is only an aquaintance, then you are right,
    not to meddle. My best girlfriend and I always
    respect each other for making each other aware of our shortcomings and learning from them. There is a fine Line between meddling and caring
    enough to help one's trusted friends. Of course
    it has to be a trusting relationship. Oops, am I
    meddling? One thing I know for sure, we know by
    the response of the Receiver if we have meddled. Silence sure can be golden most of the time. I am learning this as well. God bless.

  6. How funny, I just had this discussion with my boyfriend last night. He wants to "fix" his sister, a hoarder, whether she wants, or is ready, to be fixed or not. When I told him he was meddling, he made it about me, instead. Oh, well.

  7. I will also print and reread for myself. Very good information .
    God Bless you

  8. There some people who are neck deep in trouble but they don't know how to reach out and ask for help. Even when people offer to help, they refuse it until they can't hold off anymore. Sometimes it's due to 'foolish' pride and sometimes shyness. Whatever it is, I believe it is right to 'meddle' in the lives of our loved ones. When the problem starts, it will be everyone's issue if we don't.
    At the same time, we should be prepared in case they push back.

  9. To "neck deep" - Your point is certainly valid in many cases. Sometimes trouble is real and pride does get in the way of receiving help. An example would be someone who is hungry because their pride stops them from accepting a gift of food.

    On the other hand, suppose that my adult daughter chooses to marry someone who I "know" is not a good choice for her. In this case, I assert that a well-meaning effort to derail the relationship would be meddling.

    The truly useful kind of help is very seldom in the form of ADVICE.

    Whenever you are tempted to give advice to another adult, ask yourself why you are so sure that your opinion should carry more weight in THEIR life than their own desires and choices.

  10. In my culture, not to do what you call 'meddling' is sheer social irresponsibilty

  11. I've mentioned more than once to my boyfriend, a recovering alcoholic, that he is too busy to go to meetings, etc. More than once and it's up to God. THANK YOU

  12. WOW!! What an eye opener for me. I've been told often enough i should mind my own business. Well as much as i thought i was coming from a good heart, how untrue this article has shown me the bottom line is i am a control freak. What i think is the best advice from here on in is, meddle in my own life; other words take my own advice instead of invocking it on others. i to will be printing this page. It sure hit home. THANKS MY FRIEND. Sue/spirit.

  13. There is warning meddling?

  14. I guess at one point in time I did not see this as
    offering my advise before asking as meddling due too the fact that I am Mom and have lived long enough and experienced more situations, but
    I see now I was wrong...thanks for this valuable
    and informative advise..I will think before I

  15. "silence is golden' is true to it's form, people ask for advice and for you to be brutally honest to them, but once the words are out there, you wish that you had kept it to yourself as you feel horrible when you see the hurt on their faces and still they do not believe you and you have become someone to be careful around.
    Whose truth anyway?

  16. Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary and why am I still talking? - Posted on a Monastery bulletin board. Similar to the Serenity prayer as the wisdom to discern is the tricky part. Often I have found that especially in family matters the meddling or helping gets confused because the "fixer" feels obligated to "clean up the mess" of the "unruly". To add another huge truth to the subject is to consider how wealth is distributed in our society and the fears that surround those issues. I have been on both sides of this issue. Its a tricky one for sure.


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