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…
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.