This I Believe
I believe that you can’t tell anyone anything.
I don’t mean that you can’t tell anyone your secrets, or give directions, or that you shouldn’t talk to those around you in general. I mean that, despite your best intentions, other people are not going to learn from your life experiences, and you have to let them make their own mistakes.
A few weeks before I got married, my friend Ruby took me out to dinner. While we were waiting for our meals, she looked me in the eye and told me that I shouldn’t marry him, and that I was making a huge mistake. It wasn’t going to work out.
I told her I respected her opinion, but that I was going to marry this man. She came to the wedding – she even threw me a bridal shower – but she never spoke to me again.
Ruby was right, of course. I did make a mistake. We did split up. And after the split, my friends and family – to the last one – told me they had felt the same way, but that only Ruby had the guts to speak up.
I thought long and hard about that. Every single person that cared about me thought I was doing the wrong thing. When someone would tell me that they wished they had spoken up, I asked them why they hadn’t. I got the same answer from everyone: “You wouldn’t have listened.”
And it’s true – I wouldn’t have listened. I would have justified the decision to myself by coming up with some reason the other person was wrong, because what they were telling me didn’t conform with my idea of what I wanted to do.
I reflected back to all the advice given and received in my lifetime, and realized that people only learn from you and value what you have to say when it mirrors what they want to hear, or what they are going to do anyway. Anything else is generally ignored or discounted.
I thought that this concept was so important that I made it my Rule Number One: You Can’t Tell Anyone Anything.
It was a little bit troubling to come up with Rule Number One. I have all this great life experience that no one else will be able to benefit from. I could save my loved ones so much hurt and confusion if they would only learn from my mistakes.
But in another way, Rule Number One has freed me. Since I can’t tell anyone anything, their failure to learn from my mistakes is now guilt free. As someone has always wanted to both please and save everyone, Rule Number One has released me. I can have my experiences, and hopefully learn from them, but am no longer compelled to share that knowledge.
However, when their way has not worked, they ask what I didn’t say anything. And I answer the same way I was answered, “Because you wouldn’t have listened.”
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