Dealing with Busybodies: Some Practical Tips
Some time ago, I shared some practical tips for how to make a difficult decision. While it can be a huge relief to make the initial choice, we sometimes still have to face another hurdle: defending or explaining ourselves to people who feel entitled to an opinion about our lives.
How difficult this is depends on your personality. Some people can just shake it off when other people question or disapprove of our choices. But it's not necessarily a personality flaw to care what other people think, or to be disturbed when we're challenged, or to wonder how to navigate an interrogation without either losing our dignity or the friendship of the people who insist on knowing more. For a sociable or tender-hearted person, just saying, "None of your business. Buzz off!" isn't a real option. So how do we handle this with grace, tact, and peace of mind?
As a chronic second-guesser, here are few strategies I've developed for keeping my equilibrium:
1. Come up with a stock phrase and keep using it, blandly and politely, until the interrogator gets bored and gives up. Take some time to develop a short response that is true and accurate, but conveys only as much information as you want to convey. "We decided this was the best fit for our family right now," is positive, polite, and versatile.
And if you're ever in a position where you actually want to signal that there is more to the story, but can't get into details just yet, you can always wiggle your eyebrows or inject pregnant pauses. "We just decided that this was the . . . best fit for our family . . . right now [wiggle wiggle]." The stock phrase is like a uniform that you can dress up or dress down or just use as is without further thought, depending on the circumstances and how much effort you want to put into it.
2. Be aware of projecting your own insecurities. Looking back, I can think of times when I thought someone was questioning my choices, and I got very defensive -- but now that I'm more confident and secure, I can see that I was the one who was questioning myself. I interpreted affectionate concern or even polite small talk as a challenge because I wasn't sure I was doing the right thing. So keep that in mind, if you're still getting used to some change or decision: most people really don't care as much as you do.
3. Consider that sometimes people approach you in a very challenging way, and it turns out they're sincerely seeking information for themselves; so making yourself a little bit vulnerable by being honest is not always a bad thing, if you feel up to it. More than once, I've had people grill me about my choices, and it turns out it was really their own situations that troubled them; and later, the person who challenged me ended up thanking me for my honesty and affirmation. What came across as "How dare you do such-and-such?" was really "Do I dare do such-and-such, too?" Many of us are just looking for a little company as we make hard choices.
4. Keep on turning your decision over to God, before you make it and afterward, too. There are many, many ways of following God's will, and not nearly as many of completely cutting yourself off from His influence. The best way to be at peace when you talk to other people is to be at peace when you talk to God; so check in with Him regularly, and offer up both the decision and any uncertainty you might have.