The older I get, the more I'm convinced that most of our problems in this cockeyed world result from one simple factor.
We can't leave each other alone.
Simply can't do it! We're compelled to meddle. Wars. Riots. Murders. Assaults. Toxic relationships. All meddling.
Boil 'em down to their lowest common denominator and they have one thing in common. Someone is messing with somebody else. One nation invades another nation. One ethnic group ticks off another ethnic group. Riots ensue. One human being attacks, even kills another human being. Relatives can't keep their grubby mitts out of each other's lives. Drama, drama, drama.
If the explosion of reality shows is anything to go by, meddling makes for great ratings. Currently in their tenth season, the infamous Kardashians are the poster children for meddling. Their only talent, besides posing butt naked, is walking willy-nilly in and out of each other's lives, advising each other to dump their respective men. More recently, Todd Chrisley's blood pressure spiking efforts to control every molecule of his children's lives on Chrisley Knows Best have left us grinding our teeth...and coming back for more. Dr. Phil McGraw regularly counsels families in which the adult children “won't” (translation: over Mama's dead body) leave home. And Iyanla isn't the only one fixing lives. Everyone is busy fixing everyone else's life! There's only one problem. It doesn't freakin' work!
Despite this, the dynamic is on an upward trend in our society, though cleverly disguised in cute clichés. No one wants to be labeled “The Meddling Mother-from-Hell.” So we giggle and call her a Smother Mother. We make excuses and say they're just Helicopter Parents who love and care so much! Yeah, she's a Tiger Mom, but she only has her kid's best interests at heart.
And the results are alarming. According to the Pew Research Center, more than one third of adults aged eighteen to thirty-one were still living at home with Mommy and Daddy in 2012. Yeah, I know the economy has a lot to do with it. But seriously, dude! That's what room-mates and studio apartments are for.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was so loved and cared about, she wasn't allowed to grow up. This hurt her more than any of the possible dangers her family feared would befall her. In the end, the very thing they feared happened. She made major life decisions spur-of-the-moment and without their input. She closed on a house and married her husband, both within two weeks of first laying eyes on them. Luckily, her story has a happy ending. Both the house and her husband are fantastic. So she must not have been as naive as they led her to believe. But if she had a twenty-dollar bill for every time she heard, “We just love and care about you,” she'd be a rich woman today and not writing this lousy column!
So just in time for Uncle Charlie's intrusive questions over the turkey and Aunt Mabel's unsolicited advice over the pumpkin pie, let's take a moment to ask: Why do people meddle? Perhaps if we figure this out in the microcosm of the family, the same principles will apply on a global scale.
World peace, anyone?
Why do they do it? Yes, yes, I know. They just love and care about you. Let's dispense with this malarkey right now. Do they love you? Yes. Do they care about you? Yes. Are these their sole motives? No!
Motives. Ever think about your motives? I mean, really get down-and-dirty with them. If you're anything like me, you've never had a pure motive in your life! Never made an utterly unselfish decision. In the back of our minds, there's always that whisper of, “How will this affect me?” C'mon, I went first. Now you admit it. It won't hurt...much.
In other words, the meddling has little to do with the meddlee. It has everything to do with the meddler.
Let's face it. Aunt Mabel hasn't had a great life. She was jilted at the altar in her twenties causing a nervous breakdown. Then her ill-advised rebound marriage fell apart, and she ate herself out of it. She dotes on all her nieces and nephews, and especially on her thirty-seven year old unemployed gamer son living in her basement. Oh, how she bemoans his lack of motivation. Naturally, everyone is too discrete to mention that the last time he tried to move out, she put herself in ER by faking a heart attack.
And dear, sweet Uncle Charlie. He used to be a skilled draftsman, you know, but just couldn't make the transition from the drawing board to CAD. So he's been working as a janitor for several years, and his wife had to get back into the workforce after thirty years as a homemaker.
Nevermind the turkey. This Thanksgiving, their laser-beam eyes are focused on you. You're the dish-of-the-day. You're gonna' be stuffed with advice and ladled with criticism. Because they can't stand themselves. Deep in their souls, they feel like failures. And it's eating them, eating them. What better antidote than subtly belittling you via the mechanism of meddling. She's young, naive, trusting, full of ridiculous dreams, utterly inappropriate to life, they think. Obviously, she needs me and my “wisdom.” But see how resistant she is! Ah, that foolish youthful pride. I'll take her down a notch or two, for her own good.
Translation: I feel horrible about myself. At her age, my whole life spread before me too in a golden path of dreams yet to be explored. Then, it all went horribly wrong. I can't stand to see the unsullied hope in her eyes. Jealousy is eating me as greedily as I'm scarfing this turkey leg. I'm gonna' give advice. I'm gonna' imply she's naive, and can't possibly make wise decisions on her own. I'm gonna' crush those dreams with stark reality. And destroy her confidence, the confidence I wish I still had. I'm gonna' gossip about her to all my relatives and friends. And if she avoids me in future, I'll play the victim and have even more to gossip about. This is gonna' be awesome! As of today, I'm one homo sapien higher in the echelons of humanity.
In a word, they're narcissists. We hear that word bandied about a lot. It conjures images of Kimmy, reeking of confidence, pouting for her 15,764th cleavage-baring selfie. Au contraire mon ami! A narcissist has no self-esteem whatsoever. Their favorite way to conjure some good feelings about themselves is to clamber on the carcass of a lower life form. You. And meddling is the best way to do it.
So as the cranberry sauce is passed, choose to live deliberately. Don't spill your proverbial guts! They'll call you secretive. Let 'em. They'll call you sneaky. Let 'em. And you just might have a happy Thanksgiving after all.