When my daughters were in their teens, they made big sign and hung it in the kitchen. It said:
I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want to do and then advise them to do it.
Turns out, that’s a rather famous quotation from our 33rd president, Harry S. Truman.
Given that our kids were in their teens and doing things we would rather they didn’t, it was a bit of a stretch to take their sign seriously. But that idea actually did reshape the way we raised them. It seemed right. After all, who were we to tell them what they should want — at least in the long term?
A Lesson from Harry S. Truman
The Harry Truman approach to child-rearing requires that you trust your children to find their own way into lives that fulfill them. You have to believe that even if they stumble and make choices that they regret, they would have the wisdom and courage and will to find their way forward into the lives they want.
Rather than advising and directing them, your job becomes that of supporting and encouraging them.
But this is not a post about child-rearing. The question on my mind is about the responsibilities of friendship — supporting and encouraging.
An Even More Important Lesson
My longest friend committed suicide recently.
She was not ill or even depressed. She just didn’t want her life to end the way her mother’s had — medicalized and trapped with no escape. She didn’t want to risk losing her faculties gradually and with them her ability to control her end.
She spoke with me about her plan nearly two years ago. She didn’t ask for my approval or disapproval. She just shared with me her thinking. And I understood. I neither encouraged nor discouraged. I didn’t give advice.
I didn’t ask her about her suicide plans in the two years between our discussion and her passing. It was on my mind, but I didn’t know what to say.
I don’t regret that I didn’t try to dissuade her. But now that she is gone, I know what I should have said to her:
I love you, and if you kill yourself, I will sorely miss you.
I painfully regret that I didn’t tell her how much I would miss her.
Though we didn’t live nearby or see one another often, I find that I miss her profoundly every day. I should have told her that.
It’s tempting to advise and direct people. But perhaps the most important thing to do is to make sure we tell them how much we love them.
Tell the People You Care About that You Love Them
We tend not to say the most important things often enough. So this week, make a list of the people who make a difference in your life and, before it’s too late, let them know that you love them and that you’d miss them if they were gone. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Not only will doing this give you some inner peace in case the unthinkable happens, but it also make those you care the most about feel good.
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