You don’t owe anyone an explanation - a column by Beth Ritchie

By Swindon Link - 20 December 2021

Opinion and Features

Link columnist Beth Ritchie reminds us that we shouldn't overstretch ourselves

I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and she said that one of her guiding principles in life came from her grandad: "You don’t owe anyone an explanation.” And while I totally agree with the sentiment, it’s a tricky one for me to take on. As a self-confessed anxiety riddled over-sharer, someone with serial verbal diarrhoea and whose livelihood depends on communication, giving people an explanation for everything I do in life is kind of my main MO.

But I have pondered on this for a few days now and I have decided that I’m not only fully on board with it and actively trying to live it, but I think it might even be quite refreshing.

We live in a world where we’re all expected to do everything and be everything for everyone. There is a huge amount of pressure to “live our best lives,” while we look our best, feel our best, while juggling the best possible job, perfect kids, amazing relationship, and the ultimate home (which is of course perfectly organised, with colour coordinated everything).

As a result, we often overstretch ourselves (understatement), making promises we can’t necessarily keep. For me personally, this often leads to me feeling guilty that I have let people down when I need to say no for my own sanity’s sake. As a result, I will explain and explain the reasons why I have had to say no, feeling like I must justify my reasoning, as if I owe them something.

To be released from this is a freeing concept, and one not limited to choosing whether or not to make ourselves available to others.

This year has been a difficult one for all of us. And for me, losing my dad has been painful and hammered home the old cliché that life is too short. As a result, I have made some decisions that might have made the people around me think “hmmm.” And with each slightly “out there” decision I made (and I regret not one), I remember feeling the need to explain to at least one person why I was making that choice.

But I am a 43-year-old woman. I can do what I want, and I don’t owe anyone an explanation.

That doesn’t mean we should all be selfish, hateful people with an arrogant or resentful “I don’t owe you anything” attitude. But we should remember that life is short, and we really don’t owe anyone anything, in as gentle and well-mannered way as possible. (We also must remember that this also means that no one owes us anything either).

Removing myself from the burden of a lifetime of explaining myself feels a bit strange. No more explanations mean everything from not explaining to the taxi driver where I’m going or why (a novel concept, what will we talk about?), through to no longer justifying big financial decisions to those close to me (my money, my life), and everything in between.

It actually feels a bit rebellious, but honestly, I’m enjoying the freedom even in these first few days. And apparently lots of people already live this way.

This doesn’t mean that a new silent me will emerge but removing explaining myself from regular communications is going to be a difficult one and might take an entire lifetime to learn, but I’m always up for a challenge.

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