I ask myself this question every time I read Dear Abby, the advice column written by Pauline Phillips, who, now in her 74th year, is one wise and earthy person.
Take the response she makes to this high schooler who writes in to ask if it’s “wrong” to be put off by the fact that her new boyfriend has just told her that two of the toes on each foot are “webbed.”
“When he sent me a photo one day to prove it, I realized they are almost entirely attached and I freaked out. I don’t know how to feel. Am I being shallow? “
“No, you are being foolish,” replies Abby and I’m betting it’s this kind of candor that keeps people reading her. Plus she offers so many pearls of wisdom:
“Look within,” is often the gist of her advice. Also, “Examine your motives.” Not to mention, “Seek counseling” something she will say in the same way that bold people will yell “Get a room!” when they come upon a madly making out couple.
She just makes sense, as in this response she pens to someone going on and on to ask what words s/he should use to tell her/his new psychotherapist that that person “isn’t right for me.”
“The words are, ’This isn’t working for me and I won’t be coming back,’” says Abby, adding only that the therapist probably does deserve to know why.
And then there’s the advice she gives to an angry grandmother who begins her letter by huffing, “Whatever happened to respecting one’s elders and recognizing grandparents as head of the family?”
Apparently the woman has just come from a visit to the home of her son and his wife where she had “many disagreements” with her daughter-in-law on how to care for “my grandchild. Instead of respecting my years of experience as a mother and appreciating my help, she chose to ignore my instructions and advice.“
Now, as a result, her son has told her she “will not be welcomed into their home again unless she apologizes for trying to undermine her parenting. I told him she should apologize to ME for not showing me respect as the grandmother! How can I make my son see that it is his wife who is wrong, and not me? “
Oh dear. I do feel for this lady, I do. Her desire is so human. I mean, who among us wouldn’t wish to be supported in the belief that we ourselves are just fine and it’s the other guy who needs to change?
Still, I have to shake my head reading her words: She’s the head of the whole family all of a sudden, just because her child now has a child? I’m a grandmother myself and my feeling is that in most instances my job is to keep pretty much mum until my advice is asked for.
I’m so glad that “Abby” is still out there doing what she does – and I am dead sure I would never want her job. If I have learned anything in the near 60 years, I have spent as a thinking person it is this: When people asks questions about the course of action they should take, they often already know, deep down, what that course is.
To my way of thinking, the best thing I can do is ask helpful questions and then listen to the answers, with utter, absolute attention and an open heart.