Recently, I got myself so worked up, I thought I might actually scream. A friend of mine was all stressed out over an expensive endeavor of her brother’s. “I don’t think we can afford to participate,” she moaned. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”
It was all I could do to keep from grabbing her face in my hands and yelling, “You don’t have to do anything. The only reason that there is a problem is that your brother is being totally and completely selfish and has made totally unreasonable demands upon you.”
But I managed to keep my mouth shut. After all, although offended, my friend would not have been shocked at this. It wasn’t exactly news. And it wouldn’t be the first time that her brother had expected the entire family to jump through hoops for his convenience. It was a pattern, and nothing I said was going to change that–except to give the entire family a common enemy–me.
Especially this time of year when all sorts of odd groupings of relatives take place, we may find ourselves with the urge to fix those around us. Maybe we want to point out to Aunt Madge that her constant nagging of Uncle Rip is counterproductive. Or that Cousin Tommy really should lay off the potato chips. Or that Grammy Pam’s coming late to the holiday meal puts everyone out as they have to wait for her to show up.
This is a lesson that it took me many decades to learn: Pointing out people’s flaws usually does not help fix them. I can assure you that Cousin Tommy is quite aware that he eats too many potato chips. And unless Grammy Pam never learned to tell time, she knows she’s late. Even Aunt Madge, when confronted with her nagging, will give you a hundred good reasons why it’s the only way to deal with Uncle Rip.
So unless you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people (You’re moving in with them because you lost all your money gambling.), then let it go. Unlike objects, most people can’t be fixed until they actually want to be.
Besides, sometimes those behaviors serve a purpose. For my friend, the selfish brother allows everyone else to feel mature and accommodating, and it gives them all something to talk about on the phone and at dinner.
Once there was an elderly man who had a nasty old car in his yard with no doors and no tires. His nephew stopped by to tell him how he needed to have it towed, so his property would look better. The man listened and then said, “Not everything broke wants fixing.” It turned out that he liked to use the car for an occasional beer since his wife wouldn’t let him drink in the house.
So have a happy holiday, and give the gift of not trying to fix anyone this holiday season.