To interfere or not to interfere - that is the question

'Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears', is one of those pithy sayings from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible.

Friday, 19th August 2016, 11:58 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 11:50 pm
Reverend David Farey, vicar of Hellingly and Upper Dicker

It is highly descriptive as you can well imagine a dog’s reaction if you do grab it by the ears.

It was brought home to me recently when I witnessed an older chap shouting at a young father of a child not to do what he had just done. The young man had clearly had to discipline his child about something and the older chap had taken issue with him in how he had done it. I had not seen what had sparked the tirade. After a brief shouting match the two went their separate ways muttering to themselves.

Every day we can all encounter situations that it would be possible for us to involve ourselves in but the decision about whether we should or not is a tricky one. It is a fine line of balance between helpful intervention and unwelcome interference. We all have our lives to lead and we have the freedom to make our own decisions, and that includes making bad ones to our detriment. It is good to be able to help one another along life’s highway but a phrase that I struggle with is when someone says to me, “If I were you I would ….”. I had a colleague who used to use this phrase and it wound me up considerably. I wanted to shout back, “But you are not me, so clear off!”

There is a mixed tendency today for people either to involve themselves in other people’s business or else to ignore situations that are taking place under their noses. The problem is deciding which is the course of action to take, to interfere or not? There was a psychology experiment some years ago where a drama was acted out in a busy area of someone being mugged. It was shown that people generally held back and didn’t get involved. The exception was when just one person decided to get involved. At that point others in the crowd also came to their aid.

The key decision is perhaps whether by acting or not acting, someone could be made more vulnerable to some kind of injury. We all have responsibility to look out for one another as fellow human beings. If our intervention can actually help someone and not hurt further then we should consider taking action. The proverb does not say you shouldn’t meddle in another’s quarrel, but just to be aware of the reaction you might get, but that may be the cost you have to pay in order to help.