Making Bad Decisions Isn’t (Always) Illegal

Bad Decisions

It’s painful.

Watching people you care about make bad decisions is like watching a train wreck–you can’t stop the crash, yet you can’t make yourself look away. And if you get too close, you’ll get hurt too.

You see disaster coming and do your best to talk them out of it, but their minds are made up. You’ve been there and want to save your loved ones from the pain you know is coming to them if they continue down this path, but they don’t want to hear it.

You have a choice: you can keep trying to talk some sense into them, likely destroying your relationship; you can shelter nearby, waiting to pick up the pieces; or you can walk away. 

What Are They Thinking?!?

There’s the friend who was sooooo happy to make her final car payment, then a few months later–instead of saving up for a new car–traded her old one in for a new and larger payment.

And there’s the patient who is gravely ill with pneumonia who refuses to stay in the hospital because we won’t let her smoke with her oxygen on, especially after she caused a small explosion when she tried to sneak a cigarette in the stairwell.

Or the one who can’t take care of himself anymore but refuses to consider moving to a nursing home. Sometimes he falls and no one finds him for days, but he’s fiercely independent and denies that there’s a problem.

Then there’s the kid who insists on riding his motorcycle without a helmet. He’s confident that he’s a good driver and believes he’s invincible.

I used to drink obscene amounts of diet soda to the point where my blood was probably brown and bubbly. All the research on diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis couldn’t possibly apply to me.

There will always be people who make decisions and take actions that we wouldn’t choose. They might eat too much, drink too much, shop too much, drive too fast, take too many medications, and keep so much stuff that there’s hardly room to walk through their houses. The list goes on and on and on.

Sometimes We Think That Too

It’s easy to spot someone else making a mistake, but not so easy to find the faults in ourselves. Before we judge others, we should try to walk a mile in their shoes.

Is the new car to keep your friend and her kids safe? To make sure that she doesn’t break down (again) on the way to work? Yes, of course used cars can be safe and reliable, but the fear and anxiety of being hurt or stranded are real.

What if cigarettes are a substitute for drugs and alcohol? They can help the person cope with divorce, death, and other stresses. No, they’re not the best coping mechanism, but we’re all just trying to get through one day at a time.

And have you ever been in a nursing home? We each draw a different line where we feel life has enough quality to make it worth living. Maybe my patient would rather die at home after a few days of suffering than live another decade without his independence.

It’s harder to understand younger people who put themselves in danger because we think they might lose their lives before they have the chance to really think things through (i.e., change their minds and realize we’re right), but how many of us did stupid things* when we were young adults?

Would you agree that diet soda is better than cigarettes, pills, or sugar as a crutch to get through the day? A way to keep your hands busy in a social gathering, an inexpensive treat on a stressful day, or a caffeine boost after a late night?

Not all of these choices are as bad as they seem at first, especially when compared to the alternatives…

Yes, these are fallacious arguments because we could compare all our bad habits to shooting up with heroin, but you get my point. None of us is perfect, and we each have different values.

Making Bad Decisions Isn’t Illegal

Sure, driving drunk and using heroin are illegal, but so many of the choices we make on a daily basis aren’t. We might be harming ourselves, but it’s our right to make those choices according to our own beliefs and preferences, even if our friends and families disagree.

What are we to do when those we love make choices we don’t love?

Love our loved ones anyway.

Remember that we have choices too: we can keep trying to change their minds, we can stick around to clean up the mess, or we can walk away.

We don’t have to (and shouldn’t) help them enact their plans, but lecturing them for the hundredth time is unlikely to do any good.

Maybe their choices will end in disaster, though we can hope that our friends and family will come around in their own time and on their own terms, and just maybe we’ll be waiting with open arms when they do.

Or maybe they’ll change our minds.


What are some decisions you’ve made with which your friends and family disagreed? Would you make the same decisions today?

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*Yes, I went skydiving, and it was awesome. No, I wouldn’t go now, but I don’t regret having tried it.

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Comments 14

  1. I had some friends and family who though me training to become a life coach was kind of crazy. In mast cases it’s not, but I was financially strapped, then put more money into training. I never finished the whole series because I found it wasn’t right for me. But they only told me this after I had decided to stop. I do think though that unless someone is really endangering their life or other’s lives, you need to learn mistakes yourself. 🙂

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      If they had told you, would you have stopped earlier? Or did you have to figure it out for yourself to know for sure?
      I’m all for learning from the mistakes of others, but sometimes it’s more of a personal situation and what’s right for some isn’t right for others.

  2. Back in 2007 instead of buyin a house with my savings like my friends suggested I bought a bright shiny new corvette. Ultimately in this area the corvette is still a better investment then the house would have been… but neither was the best choice. It was a false dichotomy as a better option would have been to invest. Still the enjoyment over a decade was ultimately worth it to me, as it’s kept me frugal in other parts of my life. So I would do it again.

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      So this falls into the category of ‘no regrets’ from last week’s post! I’m glad you enjoyed your car and it proves that we each have different values. We’re not one-size-fits-all.

  3. Well I married someone right out of college and my brother tried to pay me not too (well, he was joking – kind of)… He ended up being right and it didn’t last very long. It was a bad decision and I wish I would have listened. I just didn’t have enough life experience to know what a mistake I was making.

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      How much was his offer 😉
      But it sounds like you and your brother are still on good terms. Sometimes we have to voice our opinions then step back and let others make their own decisions. But we can hang around and be supportive when they’re ready for help.

  4. I’ve made some decisions my mother outwardly disagreed with (none of them particularly harmful), though she was right on dating that guy when I was 15 – that could have ended much worse. That said, she’s never walked away or ostracized me – she’s always been supportive even if I didn’t do what she thought I should do.

    I have also learned this lesson as a mother (and I try hard not to nag!). My 16 y.o. son is a big fan of all forms of sugar and staying up late skyping with friends – but he’s not out partying and drinking. For fun, he and his friends go to the state park to hike and take photos. I think I can deal the the Coca Cola and some late nights. 😉

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      It sounds like you’re raising a great kid.
      We all have our vices, right? Coca Cola sounds like one that might wear itself out over time, especially if you challenge him to take a week off before his next hike. Without the carbonation, he’ll feel like he has a whole new set of lungs!

  5. I really like this post, Julie. It’s so easy to judge others, but we rarely know what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s easier to just love people for who they are rather than trying to change them because of our perceptions.

    My wife and I made a choice to move our family out of our home state, away from family & friends, for a job. I’m not sure if my mom or MIL have forgiven me yet (it’s been over 5 years!). They miss their grand kids, but I had to move for work. Love is great and all, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

    And my personal motto re: soda: if it’s brown and it burns, it’s good! 😛 I have no excuse for drinking as much Dr. Pepper & Coke as I do other than I like it (plus I get caffeine headaches when I go too long without one).

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      Isn’t that the truth! Even when I try to imagine what might be going on behind the scenes, if/when I do find out, I find that I was nowhere close to the real story.
      It’s hard to be patient and understanding, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

      Your mom and MIL undoubtedly respect you for sacrificing to care for your family, and hopefully they appreciate the wonderful young people you’re raising to be self-sufficient adults. I do believe it’s part of their job to make you feel a little guilty about it, though. Just remember that if it weren’t for this reason, there would always be something else!

  6. This is a great post. To switch it up a bit – I’ve been pretty judgmental of our cousins and their spending habits. I don’t voice my opinion but we’ve had some posts on our blog about them, one in particular that I wrote. We just removed it this weekend. I’d hate for them to read it and feel hurt.

    My parents were great at letting me do my thing when I was a kid. Considering I chose theater as a major and a career that was pretty brave of them. Oddly enough when I went back to grad school as an adult I was considering social work, and my mother practically begged me not to go into the field. She said I’d take everyone’s problems home with me and I’d be miserable. She knew me well and she was right, though. I’d never be able to separate work life from home life and would be upset all the time.

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      It is so hard to know when to say something and when to stay quiet.

      Most of the time I’ll make a casual comment and see if the other person expresses interest in my thoughts or opinion. If not, I try my best to let it go until he/she brings it up again. Other times, the response will convince me that the decision I thought was wrong was in fact right for that person.

      I think that parents get a pass on being subtle to some extent, though, because as much as we hate to admit it, sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves, at least in early adulthood.

  7. Hey, Julie. Great post. I certainly don’t like all the decisions I see my family and friends make. But I’ve learned to accept human frailties and refrain from pointing out “teachable moments,” especially since it took me years to work out my own issues. But I’m fortunate. My family and friends usually make good decisions. On occasion they make dumb ones, and very rarely they make disastrous ones. So it’s easy to sit back and take a “live and let live” attitude. No real train wrecks are coming. I have found, however, that since Mrs. G and I started to let family and friends know about our blog, a number of them have commented favorably about the personal finance axioms we have promoted. You can tell a light bulb has gone off in their heads. Have you ever considered telling friends, family, co-workers, and patients about your blog? I’m sure it will help a lot of them to read your posts. Or would you rather not go there now?

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      Ah yes, those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, right? My friends and family are a mixed bag, but there’s overall forward progress most days, and when disasters are looming, there’s usually no talking them out of it so I try to be supportive in any way that I can. Sometimes it turns out that all my worry was for naught.

      Your blog is fun, valuable, and informative with a unique twist on many issues that I really enjoy. Thanks for all your hard work!
      As for mine, I have told several friends, most of my family, and some coworkers about it. Many people aren’t interested, but my mom finally subscribed and it isn’t hard to guess which comments are hers :0

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