"When is 'meddling' in others' affairs not 'meddling'"? One answer is "When the motive is to help, and not hinder."
Numerous sit-coms and movies have illustrated the consequences of people minding other people's business. Sometimes these programs are humorous, sometimes serious and quite often show situations that have created misfortune and heartache for those who were targets of others' 'meddling' in their affairs.
Families too have characters "within them" who cannot help themselves but to mind another family member's business; whether it be about matters of friendships or relationships, business deals, what clothes they wear, their diet, or any other decisions someone may make in day-to-day life.
Similarly, a nosey neighbour who cannot but help themselves but to interfere, can often cause trouble within a family.
The difference between welcome advice from respected family and friends, and those who are just simply unable to mind their own business, is like chalk and cheese.
Jane Austen was gifted in her creative writing of such meddling, particularly that of relationships where prospective marriage partners were involved. Many of her books describe social interactions and their consequences, and the most popular have been made into movies. www.amazon.com
Examples from the Scriptures
Within the Bible, too, there are warnings about inappropriate meddling in the affairs of others. Proverbs is a book of wisdom that many read daily. It has some good advice about the perils of not "minding your own business", such as in
Proverbs 26 verse 17, which states: "He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears."
There are numerous other Biblical examples where this has, in fact, happened.
The brothers of Joseph could not leave alone what they perceived he to be their father's favourite of all the brothers, so they meddled and sold him into slavery. (Genesis 37)
Moses couldn't leave alone that his fellow Israelites were burdened with slavery and instead of leaving this matter to God, he killed an Egyptian soldier and then spent the next 40 years in hiding. (Exodus 2).
Aaron couldn't leave alone to trust God when Moses was on Mount Sinai (the Ten Commandments story) and responded instead to the fears of the Israelites and constructed a Golden Calf which almost brought down the entire burgeoning nation. (Exodus 32).
The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament reveals many situations in Paul's missionary journeys where those opposed to the preaching of Jesus Christ meddled and "created riots" so as to prevent the Gospel message being presented (for example Acts 19 in Ephesus). In the end, after so many of these trumped-up charges, Paul appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen. (Acts 25).
However, there is a flip side to all this: sometimes 'minding someone else's business' is legitimate "meddling"; if a bad situation that you see goes unheeded, it can lead to tragic circumstances. The perennial question for a concerned parent or friend is where to define the line between meddling that creates strife, and meddling that is genuine and demands attention.
A recent situation illustrated this, when an uncle of a two year-old girl who died of severe injuries in Wyong Hospital says he warned the Department of Community Services over fears for her safety. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, the uncle said: ''I had a case worker ring me and tell me to mind my business about this situation."
Many 'whistleblowers' in corporate and public life will sympathise with this uncle; many who have been vilified after they have 'meddled' and brought wrongful deeds and illegal practices to light.
The Bible is also full of the types of encounters where 'minding someone else's business' bore fruit. Some examples are: Jethro's advice to Moses to relieve himself from day to day disputes; Mordecai's plan to set Ruth up as the next Queen and save the Jewish people; Jonathan saving David's life from Saul's devious plan; and the list goes on and on.
Proverbs defines this fine difference between 'should I interfere?' and 'should I mind my own business?'. It centres on the motive: whether the 'meddlers' intend to create strife, or whether they are acting upon a real issue of conscience, where they realise that to do nothing will create harm.
I’m good for a dad joke (generic) - if a mentor gives offers wisdom, insights it is wonderful sound good advice. If Grand-ma does the same, it’s meddling, (We all know the feeling).
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html