I don’t remember exactly where I was, or how the conversation came up, but my father and I were discussing a disagreement I was having with a friend. There were two different tracks we could take in high school, and we had to choose by the end of eighth grade which to follow: the college track or the vocational track. For me, there was no option, I would go the college track. But my best friend was heading the other way. And I was disappointed in her for taking “the easy way out.”
I discussed this with my father, whose response shocked me. “You know what your problem is?” he asked me. “Your problem is that you always think you know what’s best for everyone else. And just because something is right for you doesn’t mean the rest of the world is going to follow your example.”
These were difficult words for a thirteen-year-old to hear. At the time, I was furious, insulted, and hurt, but mainly surprised at how well my father knew me. He was right.
How many times do we encounter this kind of advice: “I can’t tell you what to do, but if you don’t do it this way, God won’t love you any more/you’re not a patriotic citizen/I won’t speak to you ever again?”
And really, where does that get anyone?
I think back on the times that someone has asked me for advice, and I’ve given it, and they’ve gone and done something else, and I’ve felt a smug pride in the fact that I was right as they seemed to falter. But as I continue to think about it more and more, I realize that in each and every case, the person has come out of their situation just fine. Sure, maybe they did something different than I would have, but their stories have resolved themselves and the people are thriving. And who knows? Maybe my way would have been even more difficult.
I believe in the power of “live and let live.” The freedom it gives us to be who we are and let the people we love be who they are without micromanaging every minute detail of our lives. I believe that if we truly let go and let people be who they are and make their own choices and live with the consequences of those choices, for good or for bad, the world will keep turning. If we can be there for each other when we fall or when we celebrate, then our relationships will be strong and stable and happy, and there won’t be any need for condemnation or approval. We can all just be.
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