Tuesday, February 1, 2011


meddle:  verb;  to busy oneself with other people's things or affairs without being asked or needed, to interfere.
Of Colleen Dewhurt's many fabulous scenes in Anne of Green Gables, one of the most lively occurs when she confronts Mrs. Barry about the elderberry wine that Anne and Diana drink. Rachel Lynde is also present. Marilla is incensed that Anne is being accused, and when Rachel jumps into the conversation, adding her opinions about alcohol and Anne's behavior, Marilla slices into her, ending her delivery with a rousing assessment of those who "meddle in other people's affairs!" (I love that part!)

Meddling.  That's not a word we hear much anymore. The only other regular reference I can think of is from Scooby Doo.  Somewhere near the end of each episode, a grumpy adult usually says, "If it weren't for those meddling teenagers ...."  Remember?

Meddling used to be considered a grievous sin. But it's fallen off that list, and I wonder why. I suppose when people lived in smaller, close-knit communities, it was much more offensive if someone stuck her nose in, where she would be wiser to keep it out. If you lived in a tiny town of 100 people all your life, you'd be much more careful about offending anyone, by seeming to meddle.  Meddling might make you a social pariah. (You could gossip quietly all you like, of course.)  Meddling is, by definition, something that's done out in the open. That's one thing that makes it so offensive;  the meddler takes something that should be handled privately, with care, and makes it more public, so that a larger circle of people know about something that should be, well, private.

I'm sorry to say that perhaps people meddle more now than they used to, because we don't have such tight community groups. We tend to flit in and out of churches, schools, community groups, workplaces, and even friendships. Because there is less accountability on our behavior and speech, we more readily leap into situations in which our intervention is not needed, not asked, not required. If such meddling causes offense, little is lost to the meddler -- she can just change groups, change churches, change friends, and start meddling all over again with another group.

I hope this is an exaggeration, but perhaps you've met people like this. I doubt they think they are meddling. They probably think they're doing their duty, or being helpful.  "Someone needs to know," they think. They interfere just enough to get things adequately stirred up, and then step out, as if they're not involved.

Meddling is very hurtful.  Before interfering in a situation, ask yourself, "Is this really necessary? What am I hoping to accomplish? If I were the other person, would I appreciate interference from someone I barely know?"  Or ask the most important question, "Is this really any of my business?" Because in the end, it probably really isn't.

Marilla Cuthbert was one wise woman.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it is a great line and we have waited all that time for Marilla to say it. The other is "You shouldn't have twitted her about her looks!"


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