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?