This is an archived article that was published on in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn • Your suggestions to a bride worried about her mother's likely meanness at her wedding ( — in particular, saying, "It's not about me" and deflecting barbs with cheery responses — sound nice in principle, but they strike me as a textbook case of "easier said than done." Presumably Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela or the Pope could/would be unruffled in the bride's place, but I'd defy most ordinary mortals to be. I speak from experience with toxic people.


Dear Anonymous • Everything, everything I advise is easier said than done. Figuring ourselves out is hard. Figuring out others is hard. Figuring out how much honesty is appropriate is hard. Figuring how much withheld information becomes dishonest is hard. Figuring out whom we can trust is hard. Figuring out how to trust ourselves is hard. Figuring out how much help we need, can ask for and can advisably accept is hard. Finding ways to leave painful things behind us is hard. Finding words at a tense moment that help vs. hurt is hard. Accepting what we'll never achieve, whom we'll never be, what we'll never be given, what we can't expect, is hard. Admitting when we're at fault is hard. Accepting when we're blameless but will suffer anyway is hard.

Knowing what's right is hard. Doing what's right is harder.

It's not about being unruffled. It's about retraining ourselves to use more productive behaviors than the broken, maddening, ineffective, self-destructive old ones. It's about figuring out our limits, and enforcing them in ways that preserve our self-respect and sense of good will — and, ideally, our relationships.

It's stuff we can take decades to get right, if then, and bandy about in overlong online sessions every Friday since the Clinton administration, and still not solve or fully agree on.

Doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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