Mind Your Business

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I’ll admit it! I am a nosy person. I enjoy eavesdropping on conversations of people sitting near me in restaurants. I secretly read and enjoy People Magazine where I learn prurient speculations about celebrities I do not recognize. I want to know everything about Meghan Markle. Once a homeless man in the library caught me reading over his shoulder as he was making up lies to tell to a woman on match.com. He yelled at me. But there is a difference between being nosy and being a busy-body. Nosy means overly curious. A busy-body inserts him or herself into your business and tells you what you “should” do. A recent meme on Facebook said, “What color ribbon should we use to express the search for a cure for busy-bodies?”

Busy-bodies must think that they are smarter or maybe more moral than other people. They believe that they owe it to you to set you straight. I believe they are operating out of a goodness of heart, but it is not a good feeling to be counseled by a busy-body.

Years ago when I still lived in Charlotte, I was accused of being the worst kind of busy-body. Seth was a young adult then, living in Flagstaff, running his own life. When he would come home for brief visits, we would start out happy to see each other, and we would get along great. Quickly, though, the mood would change and I could tell he wanted to kill me. I took this issue to my therapist. She asked me whether I could figure out when the mood began to change. “Well,” I guessed, “it’s when I give him simple directions. For example, I’ll tell him it’s time for dinner and he should wash his hands.”

She asked, “And you think he needs to be told to wash his hands?”

“Yeah,” I answered benignly.

“Let me ask you this,” she continued. “How do you like unsolicited advice?”

“Hate it!!” I replied.

“How about you remember that next time you tell him what he “should” be doing?” she said.

“But he should wash his hands before we eat!”

She continued, “He lives on his own and he is an adult. Don’t you think he can decide when to wash his hands?”

“But I’m his mother!” I whined. “It’s my job to help him navigate his life. I’d feel terrible if he made a career decision or any big Life decision and I didn’t give him the benefit of my experience.”

“If he asks you for your opinion, then feel free to give it, but do not jump in with unsolicited advice.” She was right, and I have tried hard to heed that advice since then. Sometimes I can’t stop myself, though, from offering advice to my kids, but I’m trying, because when I do, they do the opposite anyway.

When Seth was in school in Oregon we went out to visit him. Some Smokejumpers had just died in a tragic accident, and Seth announced that he was going to drop out of college and become a Smokejumper. I was silently screaming, Noooooo! But I knew that if I told him not to do that, he’d be on the next bus to training. Instead, I said, “I think that’s a great idea! You love the wilderness and you enjoy an adrenalin rush. It sounds like the perfect job for you. Get on the phone right now and call them!”

I nagged him for the rest of the day about calling about Smokejumper training, and that was the last I heard about Seth risking his life fighting big forest fires. Whew!

When I lived in Charlotte I had many friends whose husbands were doctors. They were the worst kind of busy-bodies, because they believed that being married to a doctor meant that they had gained medical knowledge by osmosis. “That rash looks like poison ivy. Put some calamine lotion on it.”

“That cough is bad. You have bronchitis and need an antibiotic.”

“But I don’t want to take an antibiotic!”

“Then you are stupid.”

Even doctors themselves can go too far. I went to a doctor in Charlotte to get tested for allergies. He asked me a series of questions and landed on, “Do you have a cat?” I did.

“Put the cat to sleep,” he demanded.

“What? But that cat is our pet! We love the cat!! Shouldn’t we explore other possible causes for my allergy symptoms? Maybe it’s wheat or dairy….”

“Look,” he continued sternly, “Cats are the most common causes of allergy symptoms. If you don’t get rid of that cat you are insane and I will refer you to a psychiatrist.”

I was mad. I complained to the director of the practice. Nothing happened. I didn’t get rid of the cat and my symptoms continued. So there, Doc! I showed you.

So to those of you who make the classic mistake of giving unsolicited free advice, “Shut up!” We are going to go ahead and do what we do regardless.