In her interviews, Oprah often likes to ask people a thought-provoking question: What is one thing you know for sure?
I’m an agnostic about most things, and a scientist at heart. I know I’m not omniscient, and I know the difference between “know” and “believe.” While I have strongly held opinions on many topics, I know there’s room to grow.
After all, as TED Talker Kathryn Schulz showed us, being wrong feels exactly the same as being right (up until we find out we were wrong, anyway).
Having said that, though, there’s one thing I’m pretty certain about.
We can’t learn anyone’s lessons for them.
A few years back a friend of mine was in a relationship that I knew would never work out. I could see exactly where it was going and I knew it was doomed.
She, however, was floating on air and dreams, and saw only hope.
I could have stepped in and quashed her fantasy; after all, I had seen it many times before and I knew the ending to that story.
But also—from experience—I knew she wouldn’t listen. See above: being wrong feels the same as being right. She was convinced she was on the right track.
And what’s more, who was I to decide I knew better? Or, who was I to assume I knew what lesson she needed to learn? Who was I to believe I knew how it would turn out?
When we see someone we care about traveling down what seems to be a dangerous road, we want to step in with our sage advice. We don’t want to see the ones we love fall. We want to protect them, keep them safe, prevent them from ever being hurt. Even though it is by falling, by being hurt, that we ourselves have learned our best lessons.
Of course if someone asks for our opinion, we can give it. We can always share the wisdom of our experience, and our own fears for what lies ahead. But in the end, we can’t learn someone else’s lessons for them.
The best we can do is to let them fall on their own terms, and, if it turns out we were right, then be there with our whole hearts and our unconditional love to help pick them back up.