It is so easy to run the lives of others rather than our own

Let’s go back to the coffee shop on a sunny Arizona morning for today’s life lesson.

I am sitting alone so I can’t get into much trouble gossiping about my neighbors. But at that table over there, two people are going through a litany of friends and bad-mouthing each and every one. The people at the table right next to me are doing the same thing. They are all talking in voices I don’t have to strain to hear. The people at both tables are theorizing about what Tom, Dick and Julie should be doing, ought to do and things they “just need to realize.”

They all seem to have just the right answers about what their friends, families and acquaintances ought to do with their lives. It doesn’t matter a whit that the gossipers own lives are probably train wrecks, but by God they know what someone else ought to do. They seem to have the special rule book that tells them all the “right ” things other people should do. They know that even if they really don’t understand their “friends” real circumstances.

I am certainly guilty of the same behavior. It is always very clear to me how someone else ought to run their lives. On my good days I shut my mouth. On bad days, I tell someone else how and what that other person should do.

We all frequently attempt to direct other people’s live from afar, but we feel remarkably different when we hear that other people are second-guessing our decisions and our behavior. We get huffy and angry. “How dare they presume to know all the things I struggle with and carry. How dare they assume they have a guidebook to behavior that I don’t.” I can work myself into a perfect snit over other people’s audacity and cheekiness, all the while forgetting that I do it to other people all the time.

As I have written in this space so many times, our journey is our own. Only we know what makes sense for us. Only we know where our heart takes us and where it’s been. It is impertinent and maddening when other people judge our journey with an implied arrogance that they know best.

But every time I find myself in high dudgeon over those people who think they could run my life better than I can, I try to remind myself that I own that sin too. I judge them too. Until we walk other people’s journey in their shoes we don’t know squat about what they are going through or what their best decision might be.

We would all be best off if we remember the lyrics of an old Hank Williams tune: “Cause if you mind your business, then you won’t be mindin’ mine.”

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Considering what people think of us

A lot of us try to talk tough. We shout from the rafters that we don’t give a good damn what people think of us. We say we don’t care what they say and that we can rise above it. We tell ourselves “to thine own self be true,” but we seldom believe it.

Most of us obsess about what the people down the hall are saying about us. We are deeply hurt when some mean-spirited assessment of our behavior or character gets back to us. We primp physically, we buy the best  we can afford and we present our most charming selves on days we don’t feel at all charming, just so we can “impress” people.

My favorite spiritual author Anthony DeMello is brutal when he describes the self focus of humans. He writes in his book Awareness: “I press a button and you’re up. I press a button and you’re down. And you like that. How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey so everybody can twist your tail and you do whatever you ought to be doing.” DeMello adds “But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more.”

When people berate us, criticize us or belittle us it tells us far more about them that it does us. An older friend was recently devastated when a peer told her how horrible and selfish she was. It was the peer who was acting horrible and selfish but the peer has to live with that. Meanwhile, my friend is devastated because, like most of us,  she actually does care what people think of her.

These days I am trying to let the wisdom of a friend guide me when I am victimized by gossip, mean-spirited observations or when somebody just has no use for me. She says “what other people think about me is none of my business.”

I know that’s not new, there is even a book with a similar title, but the phrase was new to me. I find it profoundly shaping advice. It tells me I cannot be concerned about outside opinions. It tells me that I better know who I am, know what my gifts are and I need to know how I use those gifts to help and serve others. If I am confident in my personal assessment of myself, I simply don’t need to know or care what others think or say.

I need to own me and my actions and not let the wagging tongues own me. I need to live, give and love as I see fit, not as someone else dictates.