Keep it Simple Stupid, it’s the Weekend

Even good old Dear Abby knows what the weekend is for. On Saturday she posted three letters, answering each in her typical blunt way.

The first was from a woman so full of smug advice that Abby just basically let her give the sermon. She did well in school, she said, then got a good job; and when she got laid off from that job she decided to ….go back to school again! Because she loves learning! (Now why can’t other people do this too, the whiners? is what’s she’s all but saying as far as I can tell. )

I think Abby picked this big non-question because she didn’t even have to wake up from her nap to answer it. She just said basically, Good for you dear. And that door over there? Don’t let it hit you on the way out.

The next letter she chose to answer came from a teenager who explained that he was growing out his hair. He said his bangs now come down to his eyes and it looks really cool and all, but his teachers keep commenting on it. What should he do?

Abby’s tart response: Cut it. “Teachers like to see your eyes.”

But really what did the kid expect, asking an adult? Adults all like to see the eyes. It’s because we know, just like the animals know: you have to see the eyes to read intent. If the eyes narrow, start packing your stuff. If the teeth get bared, start running.

The third and final question she shared came from a well-meaning person who, noticing how much her niece seems to like her own pet rabbits, thought Hey what if she gave the kid a nice little bunny of her own? Wouldn’t that be cool? And should she also throw in a cage?

Now on a weekday Abby might have wound up and given a full Power Point presentation on why this was s a bad idea. But because it was Saturday she just bit her tongue and said that no it’s actually never a good idea to give a live animal as a gift. 

I myself would probably add “especially a poop-each-time-it-hops animal who needs hay of all things and has long sharp teeth like the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

But I am not as wise as Abby and do not always remember that weekends are for taking it easy; for saying less rather than more; and for just pressing ‘Play’  and enjoying a little humor:

Better Than Abby

I was once giving a young man a bit of advice, something I didn’t realize I was doing until he suddenly held up his hand. “No, see I don’t want your advice; all I want from you is your encouragement and support.”

It’s a remark I’ve never forgotten but what did it really mean? Do people really NOT want a word of counsel, preferring instead to blunder blindly forward on their own? And if they won’t take advice from someone they know, will they take it from someone they’ve never met?

Well, if they’re smart they will, and if that someone is Jeanne Phillips also known as Abigail Van Buren, who now writes the feature her mother Pauline first brought to the world in 1956. Now, as then, ‘Abby’’ gives it to you straight. Take this recent response to a woman vexed with her husband who thinks it’s fine to read over his wife’s shoulder.

“I have tried explaining that I think it’s rude, but he says I’m rude for asking him not to do it. He thinks I have something to hide if I tell him to stop. What say you?” Abby’s reply: “I say you married a man who is insecure and suspicious, and you have my sympathy.”

Or take this exchange, with a woman so desperate to maintain ties with a former boyfriend that she buys him a bottle of his favorite wine, even though “he is making no effort to hang out” even to accept the gift. “At what point do I put the bottle to better use and drink it myself?” she asks. Abby’s reply:  “How about tonight?”

She’s equally frank with a man agonizing about his girlfriend who has three children from three different fathers and a male ‘friend’ who she has the children addressing as Daddy. “She says she loves me and wants us to be married, but I’m having a hard time accepting that all of these children’s fathers will be part of our life — as well as the ‘friend.’ Can a psychologist help me get past this?” Abby’s response: “I don’t know. But before you take this relationship further, you should definitely see one.”

Yes she says more in saying less.But what I ‘ve noticed is that sometimes saying nothing at all can also work pretty well in directing people toward good choices.

In my second year teaching, I was assigned Girls Room duty, which meant spending every lunch hour on a bench in a basement lavatory where one day a student from my sixth period class sat down beside me.

Her father had died the year before and she was just plain mad at the world. When she came to class at all she just sat scowling out the window. At quiz-time she would say she hadn’t done the reading and I should just give her the F.

Yet now here she was every day on my bench, where, as the months passed, she slowly began talking about things, including the extralegal bits of mischief she had cooked up the night before.

I just listened – until the day when she came to the end of this Daily Crime Report, paused, and blurted, “But I’m stopping all that now.”

“Why?” was all I could ask.

“Because I can tell that you think I should.”

She knew this not because I said so but because I didn’t and there was the revelation of a truth I have never forgotten: Namely that true attention makes a space in which the person speaking can truly hear and truly see himself – and then make a good decision on his own.