Q: I think that a friend of mine has a drinking problem and I’m not sure if as I friend I should get involved or if it’s really none of my business. Any thoughts?
A: I realize that I risk grave decent when I say this, but I absolutely think that you should get involved. To speak very generally I think that for far too long we have allowed ourselves to become distanced from a sense of family, community and responsibility and we are no better for it as people. In a previous question I had argued the fact that true friendship embraces honesty and difficulty as well as laughter and “girls or guys night out.” It is a responsibility that extends far beyond whose turn is it to pick up the tab. It is a relationship and an exchange that must weather both dark and light. And so here you are with a nasty little situation on your hands that in all likelihood is about to cause YOU a good deal of grief. Oh well.
When it comes to friends with a drinking problem the undeniable reality is that they are not just a danger to themselves they are a danger to others and I know with certainty that I simply could never live with myself if an innocent party was harmed and I had never stepped up to say or do anything. I believe that right and wrong still exists in this world and that it isn’t always a matter of personal interpretation. If you were to see someone smacking their kid at the playground would you quickly shuffle off to another part of the park avoiding eye contact with them and your own conscience or would you speak up? If someone you knew well was involved in an extramarital affair would you say something or take solace in the misguided belief that it’s none of your business? I remember being at my brother’s wedding down in New Orleans. It was a Catholic wedding on New Year’s Eve and the attitude and the atmosphere were festive to put it mildly. Mardi Gras mood aside, I was struck in a way that I will never forget when the priest that was marrying my brother and his wife told all in attendance that because they were here, at this wedding, participating in this covenant with them, that we were ALL responsible for this marriage. I was completely struck by this universal empowerment and call to action. Apparently we weren’t all there for a great party, some fine gumbo, and pictures of the happy couple cutting a cake. We were bearing witness to their relationship and were therefore obligated to not just celebrate their union, but to be an active, involved, responsible part of their life together. So it can’t help but beg the question; at what point did we abdicate a sense of responsibility for ease and lack of conflict? At what point did we decide that “live and let live” is a better option than believing in right and wrong? At what point did we forego courage in favor of being nonjudgmental?
Now don’t get me wrong here. This is not carte blanche to gossip, interfere and make a world class nuisance of yourself in people’s lives. The fact that your office co-worker wore white after Labor Day or that your Son-In-Law doesn’t have a corporate job is not fodder for your unwarranted opinions. I’m talking about the Big Stuff. The kind of stuff where your moral compass starts to spin wildly and you know in your gut that something isn’t just different or amiss, but terribly wrong.
On a somewhat lighter note, Greg and I were at dinner recently with two other couples and the table next to us consisted of four guys doing their best to support the local brewery. Several beers into their evening, they all started bitching about their wives. Surprising? Not so much. But I remember sitting there thinking, “what I wouldn’t give to hear one of these guys have the brass ones to speak up and say, “hey gentlemen, last time I checked, these are the women you married and if you wouldn’t be this disrespectful with her sitting right here, I suggest that we reconsider the direction of this conversation.” I would have fallen off my chair, but needless to say, I remained both seated and unimpressed.
In this same vein, I remember being at a playground one time with our kids and there was another couple there with an older child and an infant in a car seat/carrier. The couple proceeded to set the baby down in its seat next to a bench and then pay astonishingly little attention to either the infant or their older child and the infant was crying hysterically. Not fussing, not restless and struggling to fall asleep, this little one was flat out screaming for at least half an hour. The reality is that a baby that age doesn’t cry for that length of time, that vigorously, if something isn’t wrong. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and I simply approached his parents and asked, “Would you mind if I just hold him?” “Sure, go ahead,” was the all too ready response. Well long story short, he still cried while I held him, but I at least felt better if I allowed myself to somehow hope that this little guy would sense that even if something was wrong and he was unhappy there was still a set of warm arms that would hold him, care for him and keep him safe. Were all these lofty thoughts conveyed in my hour with him…of course not. But in my mind it was a far better option than him being so innocent, so helpless and so alone. Clearly there is nothing intrepid or heroic in this story. But I do know that I at least felt better because I did something. Does this rate alongside storming the beaches at Normandy or someone running toward the Twin Towers versus away from them? Certainly not. But I for one would rather believe that valor still exists and bravery isn’t just meant for a few of us, but that it lives in all of us. Whether the world agrees with you or not, I wish you all the courage to live and proclaim your convictions.