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March 10, 2011

It’s None of My Business…Or Is It?

IStock_0ducking For as long as I can remember, there has seemed to be a pull for people to stay out of other people’s business.  I hear, “That’s none of my/your business” all the time.  For example:
•    One client comes into my office and says she saw her friend’s husband kissing another woman.  When I ask if she told her friend, she quickly says, “No. I don’t want to get mixed up in that.  Besides, it’s none of my business.”
•    Another client comes in and tells a story about her family on vacation in Florida.  Apparently her brother’s family was constantly yelling, fighting and snapping at one another in public and in the home they were all sharing.  When I asked if she tried to talk with her brother about the intensity in his family, she said, “No.  It’s not really my business.”
•    A friend was talking with me about her father-in-law’s emotionally abusive treatment of his wife (her mother-in-law).  It’s so bad that she has a hard time staying very long when she visits.  I asked if she ever says anything and of course she responds by saying, ”No.  It’s their marriage and none of my business.”

I could go on and on with countless stories of people staying out of other people’s business, but I think you get the gist.  When it comes to what is and is not your business, I have a very different take from most people.  I also feel very strongly about my take -- so be forewarned.

When poor behavior happens in front of me, I believe it becomes my business.  If I’m out with my family at a restaurant, or the like, and another family begins to make a scene, yell and scream at each other, etc. their business has crossed into my business.  They are now impacting my space, at which point I have the right to step in, should I so choose.  I do not believe that silencing myself and hoping they will settle down quickly is serving me -- or anyone else --  in that restaurant.  I also believe that my silence would send a clear message that the yelling is okay, warranted and acceptable.  But the yelling is not acceptable.

If I catch my best friend’s husband cheating on her, his behavior has now become my business.  It has become my business because it affects me.  I now have to either hold a secret, which will greatly impact my relationship with my friend, or address the issue directly in some way (speak to my friend’s husband or to my friend).  The idea that what he’s doing is none of my business is a crazy idea.  If it were none of my business, then it wouldn’t be affecting my life...but it is affecting my life.  When someone’s behavior impacts your life or your space, that behavior is open for authentic communication.

A behavior is also open for authentic communication even if it is not happening in your space, per se, but is impacting the life of a loved one.  For example, if your sibling seems highly depressed, is struggling to take care of the children and is starting to use alcohol to self-medicate—your love for your sibling makes their struggle your business.  If they died, you would be left to pick up the pieces.  Why in the world would you not try to discuss this with him/her? 
I realize my thinking is very different from that of many people, however I encourage you to start thinking about how the behavior of others impacts you.  Taking care of yourself is always your business...and sometimes taking care of yourself requires that you step into other people’s business or that you take care of the business they have brought into your life.

When you do step in, however, do so with respect and compassion.  Always remember that poor behavior is not a green light for poor behavior of your own.  Step in with a clean energy and stay centered.

Challenge: Begin to pay attention to the concept of “It’s not my business” and how it plays out in your life.  How do you feel when you abide by it – might you be taking the easy way out?  How might you feel if you stepped in with authenticity and compassion (for yourself and others)?


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I feel hurt when a friend says "It's none of my business" when I've tried to open up to them about something personal that troubles me.

When someone comes to me to talk, I give them my ear, my compassion, and, if possible or seemingly warranted, my advice, and I so appreciate when they do the same for me.

Wow, Think about a community where individuals are attributed for their activities. Not much of that going on these days.

It's always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! I'm sure you had joy writing this article. Thanks for posting.

Liked your site. Looks like simple but awesome. Please keep this to update!

Fantastic article, I learned some things that I did not understand. I just found your blog thing, it is quite informative. Im going to check some of your other posts.

Great article. I found it hard to comprehend at first but then I really appreciated it and your time and effort for sharing this valuable information.

I agree, this is an excellent post. I appreciate the clarity around the concept that if they're carrying on in public, it's no longer private and is impacting my life. It's such a tricky balance though and I've yet to have any one be grateful for my interrupting their 'scene'. That said, I have heard stories where adults have reflected on the time a sane adult pulled their parent off them in public and what a difference it made to their understanding of the world.

My top tip with this is to deal with it early. If I allow my resentment to build then I can guarantee that no matter how calmly I think I'm making my point about their 'behaviour' I'm going to radiate resentment or anger. That said, I'm not overly concerned about getting it perfectly right and consider it to be cheap therapy. Do one thing every day that scares you!

Great article Lisa and I'd be really interested in tips for scenario's. Especially for dealing with parents with obnoxious kids ;-)

Wow, Imagine a society where people are held accountable for their actions. Not much of that going on today.

I'd like to see a follow-up article about options for appropriate action in these situations.

Another situation that often comes up: I am in the grocery store and I see someone yelling at or hitting a child. What is an appropriate action for me to take? I do not feel it is right to stand by and say nothing -- I agree with you that it IS my business when it happens in front of me -- but I worry about making a bad situation worse.

Please address the next step in a future article!

Dear Rabbi Ruth Adar: Great suggestion--keep an eye out for a follow-up article!


It has always felt incongruent to me when people say, "It's none of my business"...when I'm bothered by what I'm seeing, as in the examples in your article. I'm glad you wrote about this.

So Lisa, can you give us an example of how you would step in on some of the examples you mention in the article. Examples of what you might say or how you would say it would be helpful.

Karen G.

Dear Karen: Great question--yes that is a great idea. Keep your eyes open to a follow up post.

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