Chapter 53

  1. Intermeddling

We all of us scorn a busybody, and scarcely have words of contempt strong enough to express our feelings towards one who is constantly meddling in what in no way concerns him. There are some persons so unfortunately disposed that they can not rest easy until they have investigated their neighbors’ business in all of its bearings, and even neglect their own to attend to his.

This trait of character is directly allied to envy on the one hand and to slander on the other. Envy incites in us a desire to possess the good fortune that we discover falling to others. Meddling is satisfied when it discovers all the minutiæ of others’ affairs, and may be so utterly devoid of energy as to care but little whether it can acquire the good or not. Meddling is directly incited by egotism; for that unfortunately leads not only to undue confidence in one’s own abilities, but, what is worse, to a feeling that you are a little better able to attend to the affairs of others than they themselves.

Slander, too, oft takes its rise in the curious busyings of those who are interfering where there is no call for their services. There is such a tendency in human nature to flaunt abroad the faults of others, that no sooner does one who systematically intermeddles, discover some failing—and he or she is sure to do this, since it is human to err—than they straightway hasten to lay before others the fruits of their investigations. And thus is given to the public the petty defects of some home life, which, by constant repetition, soon assumes gigantic size, as snow-balls rolled over and over by boys; and so, at length, the happiness of some home circle is destroyed by the malicious and poison-giving officiousness of busybodies.

Neglecting our own affairs and meddling with those of others is the source of many troubles. Those who blow the coals of others’ strife may chance to have the sparks fly in their own face. We think more of ourselves than of others, but sometimes more for others than ourselves. People are often incited to meddling by the desire of having “something to tell;” but, if you notice, they are but narrow-minded and ignorant people, who talk about persons and not things. Mere gossip is always a personal confession either of malice or imbecility, and the refined should not only shun it, but by the most thorough culture relieve themselves of all temptation to indulge in it. It is a low, frivolous, and too often a dirty business. There are neighborhoods in which it rages like a pest. Churches are split in pieces by it; neighbors are made enemies by it for life. In many persons it degenerates into a chronic disease, which is practically incurable. Be on your guard against contracting so pernicious a habit.

A person who constantly meddles means to do harm, and is not sorry to find he has succeeded. He is a treacherous supplanter and underminer of the peace of all families and societies. This being a maxim of unfailing truth, that nobody ever pries into another man’s concerns but with a design to do, or to be able to do, him a mischief. His tongue, like the tails of Samson’s foxes, carries firebrands, and is enough to set the whole field of the world in a flame. To meddle with another’s privileges and prerogatives is vexatious; to meddle with his interests is injurious; to meddle with his good name unites and aggravates both evils.

There is, perhaps, not a more odious character in the world than a go-between, by which we mean the creature who carries to the ear of one neighbor every injurious observation that happens to drop from the mouth of another. Such a person is the slanderer’s herald, and is altogether more odious than the slanderer himself. By this vile officiousness he makes that poison effective which else would be inert; for three-fourths of the slanderers in the world would never injure their object except by the malice of go-betweens, who, under the mask of a double friendship, act the part of a double traitor. The less business a man has of his own, the more he attends to the business of his neighbors.

Do not cultivate curiosity; every man has in his own life follies enough, in his own mind troubles enough, in the performance of his own duties difficulties enough, without being curious about the affairs of others. Of all the faculties of the human mind, curiosity is that which is most fruitful or the most barren in effective results, according as it is well or badly directed. The curiosity of an honorable man willingly rests where the love of truth does not urge it further onward, and the love of his neighbor bids it stop. In other words, it willingly stops at the point where the interests of truth do not beckon it onward and charity cries halt. But the busybody in others’ affairs is not apt to hold his curiosity in such reasonable limits. The slightest appearance of mystery is sufficient to incite them to great exertions in endeavor to gratify a curiosity as idle as it is useless, and entirely out of his business.

A meddler in the affairs of others is seldom moved by the spirit of charity. He is not curious to discover where he can lend a hand of assistance. If such were the case, it were a trait to be admired rather than despised; but, allied as it is to envy and slander, to idle curiosity and inquisitiveness, it can but be detested by all honest seekers for others’ good, and shunned by the truly enlightened and refined. And if one would be honored and respected, he will strive to be as free from the spirit of meddling as possible. He will relegate that to the low and frivolous, and respect himself too highly to be classed among them.

, In, pager

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