How Do I Respect My Friends Who Make Bad Decisions?

At what age, meaning how were you, when there became this underlying implication that you have to respect people’s decisions no matter what they are because they are an adult? Now, I know the real answer is probably always, you should always respect people’s decisions but somewhere around 21 everyone I knew would stop intercepting what was obviously poor decision making because there was this new understanding that you “mind grown people’s business.”

For the most part that’s true. A part of learning the lesson to just butt out is that it doesn’t matter how you feel, what you say or what you do people will make bad decisions anyway. Now what is a bad decision? Well, what would be categorized as a “bad” decision is probably totally subjective to your values and thus, bad decisions are as black and white as good ones—as in totally grey. Nevertheless, I’d like to provide you with some examples.

Would I ever sweepingly declare that anyway who marries at twenty-one and has a child at twenty-two is making a bad decision and dooming themselves? No, I would never. However, I would say that I have a few friends who are too immature, not financially stable, independent, secure or well adjusted enough to do those things without more life experience. So when one of these friends tells you that they got pregnant by some rando dude they only boned three times and are keeping it because they think they’ll be a good mother, how do you be a good friend to them?

Is being a good friend reminding your friend of their vulnerabilities or shortcomings so that they don’t make profoundly life changing decisions that will have poor results or do you blindly support and encourage them no matter what impossible difficulties they will face? And who knows, your friend can surprise you and maybe will rise to the occasion!

The truth is I have no clue but I’ve done both and both have made me feel like crap. My best friend exclusively dated abusive guys and I tried the whole, “You got to leave this douche!” thing and that just made her disappear. Then I tried the staying out of it thing but that made me sick to my stomach because I felt like I wasn’t helping and that she was deeply hurting. Now, abuse and child bearing are completely different (and like I said all of these things are on a case by case basis) but how do you stop a friend from walking into an inevitably horrible situation? No matter what it is when you’re supposed to respect their autonomy as a person.

Another example is just plain drunkeness. People can become different folks when they are drunk and I have had friends who were clearly black out drunk, run off with no shoes where I have had to chase them to make sure bad things didn’t happen to them. These drunk friends, like most drunk people, will assert that they are fine, when they are slurring their words and stumbling over. How do you help someone in a bad way who can’t see the storm coming?

What I’ve resulted to is waiting things out. Assuming that things are going poorly for your friend is probably not being the best of friends. I try not to underestimate my buddies, let them ebb and flow on their own path, then if the storm has arrived, I quietly point their eyes to the gray cloud, I ask how they are going to handle it and if they ask for my advice I offer it, if they don’t I try not to intervene unless things seem dire. After all, there are no “bad” and “good” decisions in the immediate, only in retrospect can we know if what we’ve decided to do was right. As long as my friends are doing what they feel is right at the time, I have to keep my opinions to myself because that’s all they are, my opinions. It isn’t my place to be a moral compass but it is my place to be a friend.

[Image Via. Shutter Stock /  Bedov]

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