The Greatest Gift

I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet anyone who is perfect, or even close to being perfect.  Everyone I know, even the people I love the most, have areas where I honestly feel they could use some serious improvement.  An sometimes it’s so tempting to tell people just exactly what they should be doing to improve their life, and to lay out a few convenient steps they should follow in order to fulfill their potential or simply live a happier, more productive life.  Thankfully, I usually try to resist that temptation.  (Although I suspect both my son and daughter could present lots of evidence to the contrary on that one.)

I think when we care about someone, it’s only natural to want to step in and “fix” what we see to be the flaws that are holding them back.  We might have a tremendous respect for our coworker’s work ethic, but think that his political views need to be corrected.  We might have a friend who struggles with her weight, and think we’re helping if we tell her how often she should be exercising and exactly what she should be eating.  Often, the better we know someone, and the more we care about them, the stronger our urge is to set them on “the right path.”  The problem is, despite our good intentions, we’re usually not helping at all.

Too often, what we’re really doing is trying to “help” the people we know become the kind of people we want them to be.  And if we’re honest, that usually means we’re trying to shape them into becoming more like us.  

As an avid reader, it bothers me to see my husband sitting on the couch in the evening, watching “The Karate Kid” for the umpteenth time.  How can he waste his time on that drivel, when we’ve got four bookshelves in the house just loaded with great books waiting to be read?  So from time to time,  I “helpfully” suggest a book that I think he’d like, and he accepts it politely and puts it on his dresser to read “when he gets the time.”  (The last time I checked, he’s got quite the stack going.)  But seriously, if watching a movie he enjoys helps him relax after a hard day at the office, why do I insist on trying to make him read?   Obviously, because reading a book relaxes me.

The simple truth is that it’s not our place to insist that other people think, believe, or act just the way we do.  They are allowed to form their own opinions, have their own preferences and yes, even their own flaws.  Unless they have actually asked for help, they don’t need us, or want us, to change them.  Rather, they need us to accept them and love them just the way they are.  Which is exactly how I want people to accept me and my many, many flaws.

I have come to believe that accepting people for who they really are is actually the nicest gift we can give anyone.  It gives them the confidence and freedom they need to let their own best self shine through, and what could be nicer than that?

44 thoughts on “The Greatest Gift

  1. I think it was a teacher that once said to me: I have only made one mistake, and that was when I thought I made a mistake, but I really didn’t. It really stuck with me, because while I knew he was joking, he also was a very arrogant guy. You’re right Ann, I think I used to be a pretty controlling person, thinking I was the proverbial ‘helpful’ person. But also, I am a caring person, so people come to me for ‘help’, but what I’ve learned over the years, that most folks don’t really want your help, or an honest answer in most things. So the only people I really help, are my kids and my very nearest and dearest. And what sets them apart is that they all accept me, warts and all. So I go to them for help too. And since there are so many strange and different things about me than most people and because they love me anyway, I treasure these people and listen to them when they talk…..

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    • It’s so easy to think we are helping, when sometimes what we are really doing is controlling, even with the best of intentions. Like you, I try to help those who ask for it, but I have to be careful to make sure it’s really wanted, even then. And you are so right, the people who are nearest and dearest to us are the ones who can really make the difference!

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  2. Good thoughts. I was never a parent and didn’t develop those “nurturing” muscles. Being a conflict avoider tend to prefer the sideline, so giving folks the freedom to do their thing comes naturally.

    Still, there are folks who are on a destructive path that could use some steering. I guess the trick is, to mangle an old cliche, how to gently lead the horse to water and suggest they’re thirsty without the horse realising you’re holding their reins.

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    • Yes, nothing like having children to bring out the old “meddling instinct!” At least it sure did in me. As for helping others, it’s a fine line to walk, making sure that we really are being helpful. I like your analogy of the horse!

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  3. You’re so right, Ann. In fact I’m working on a post now about how this relates to the interaction with our children.
    But our life is filled with these relationships and how we handle those moments when it’s difficult to remain silent even when advice is requested. As you mentioned, the closer we are to these people the easier it is to say what we think and the harder and more dangerous it is to say those things.
    As I’ve always said about marriage and friendships in general, it’s not what we say that keeps these relationships going. It’s what we don’t say.

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    • Honestly, I struggle with this one, especially with my kids. I tend to say things that are better left unsaid, and keeping silent is a virtue that I am working hard to attain. Because you are so right, silence is often the best response, or at least a very strong filter on our mouths! It’s hard not to step in and “fix things” when we are dealing with someone we love, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Thanks, George…you always get what I’m trying to say!

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  4. Nicely said. It’s difficult, especially with our children, to not give them too much advice on how they should live, etc. Thanks for the reminder that we need to let everyone try to live their lives, unless, of course, they are asking us for advice!

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  5. It would seem that no matter how chaotic, hapless and ineffectual a state their own lives may be in, still even they, surely the most needy of advice, have no limit to the generosity with which they ceaselessly dispense the same. 😉

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  6. I’m of the opinion that the recipe for a happy marriage is to accept one’s partner for who and what they are, warts’n’all. So my hubby watches martial arts and horror videos incessantly, and I just let him get on with it though most of them bore me witless. He’d love me to read William Gibson but there’s nothing in the guy’s writing that does anything for me so he just lets me get on with my thing, too. I think it’s pretty much the same in all relationships, one has to accept people for being themselves. I have relatives who would love to change me, particularly what they regard as my ‘negativities’. But you see, to me they are not negatives, they are just ‘me’. I’m kinda happy being me. 🙂 So yeah – your post hits the nail right on the head and I agree with you.

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  7. Exactly! I read, my husband watches movies, and really one is not better than the other. Sometimes I just thought my way was better, because it was, you know….MY way! But when we really love someone, we let them to things their own way. It’s just that now and then I have t remind myself of that. (And my relatives who want to change me, as well!)

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  8. Ahhh, this definitely is a wonderful gift, indeed. ☺

    Change should come from within. But first, a person must recognize, for themselves, there is need for change.
    Changing to please someone else brings much discomfort and ultimately unhappiness. Been there, done that. I strive to be a positive influence and be the best person I can be. And if that inspires someone to change then wonderful!

    We were all blessed with wonderful attributes, I try to focus on that and hope for the best. But I’m realistic, I understand that at times we simply have to agree to disagree and move on.

    Lovely post. Hope you’re well 🌷

    Liked by 1 person

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