I’ve been concerned about one of my dear friends. He could be depressed. Maybe not; how would I know, really? Is there anything more annoying than an armchair psychologist? But I hear so many long sighs—deep exhales of resignation, “life sucks and then you die” sounds of exasperation that I had to speak up.
“Maybe you should talk to someone, a therapist maybe,” I said, in the kindest, gentlest, most loving voice I own.
He shrugged. And at that moment I remembered, you can’t tell anyone anything.
No, you can’t tell anyone anything, and you certainly can’t tell anyone what to do—you can’t tell them to become a Democrat, stop drinking, eat their vegetables or love Jesus, regardless of the benefits they’d enjoy if only they’d follow your sage advice. I do believe that, however well intentioned, about 90 percent of what comes out of our mouths is for our own benefit. It makes us feel good to say it.
Sometimes kids will throw something out there to see how we’re going to chew on it. They’re not looking for our advice; they’re going to do what they want no matter what. They’re just looking for a gauge so they know how far their actions are going to take them from the path we’d like them to follow, which is in direct correlation to how close they’ll be to displeasing us. If they’re heading way off the path we envision for them, they won’t bring up the subject again.
I’m always telling people what to do; I often joke that I’m the kind of person who would tell the pope how to say Mass. In my brilliant mind, I can easily identify what’s going on with them and sometimes the solution to the problem is so clear to me — how can they not see it? Of course, people can look at my life, shake their heads and roll their eyes and wonder, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph — what the hell is she thinking?”
I don’t believe my friend will ever go to a therapist. Maybe the next time I see him, which could be several months from now, he’ll try to suppress his sighing in my presence, lest I start in on the whole therapy blah, blah, blah. Or maybe he’ll truly be past whatever it is he’s going through right now and secretly resent me for suggesting he could benefit from some mental health counseling.
So the question is, knowing full well that we speak primarily to hear the sound of our own voices, should we ever offer advice at all?