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The Reality Check. My best mate smokes

Over the years, I have dedicated a lot of time and effort into my education. Interested in the world of health and helping others, I am particularly interested in the world of behavioural science. What goes into assisting people in changing? How can we empower people? How can we help have the most significant impact with the least effort from the individual? The list goes on. This is where the interest in exercise and food comes from, movement and eating, two behaviours we know can improve health and in turn someone’s life. I love people; I’m fascinated, curious, engaged and invested in the person in front of me. They are an opportunity to learn and potentially to help also. Still, one of the issues that come with experience and education is that it can quite often create a perception of patronised judgement. Such an attitude creates too great a divide rather than unites two individuals. Once that judgement is made, it is challenging to empathise, sympathise, empower and ultimately help. The information relayed to the individual on the other side no matter how diligently researched and how well articulated in short HOW RIGHT it is; it not useful because it isn’t respected. I had this realisation in my personal life about 12 or so months ago; my best mate is a great man, a strong, opinionated, generous, loving soul that would do just about anything for anyone. The youngest of three with two older sisters he is a fantastic brother and an even better son. I recall a time in my early teens when he was talking about his mother, a powerful independent lady who worked very hard to raise her kids. My mate spoke with such affection for their relationship and admiration for his mum, a pretty rare thing to hear from a 14-year-old at a public high school in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I recall as a result from that moment on, becoming a lot closer with my mother. I think you’re understanding how highly I think of my mate. Guess what he smokes. For years I have annoyed him, at times the conversation turning to arguments and adding a couple of beers to the mix has treaded a fairly generous line that good mates give each other in terms of latitude. My brother, close to the two of us, gets so anxious whenever I bring it up, he can’t even sit down and take part in the conversation. It’s become a bit of a joke, just to make him feel uncomfortable. Now I’m first going to attempt to describe my mindset and then try to explain my mates and then outline the outcome and hopefully make some sense of it all for you.

My mindset: After nearly ten years working in health professionally, over $60K invested in my education. Countless courses, books, assignments, conversations, exercises and the now thousands of people I have interacted with over that time, surely I can help my mate quit smoking. You know how bad it is for him, how can you look his mum in the face and tell her you’re his best mate and you can’t even help your best mate quit. What about my mate himself, my thoughts: everyone wants to quit smoking, what is he doing it for? Surely I should be able to talk him out of it. I have to be able to help him. I ask him for help when I need it, rewiring my place, changing fans over, putting in new lights, I have to help him with my expertise, I owe it to him.

My mates’ mindset: If he tells me to stop smoking again, I’m going to give him another broken jaw. I’m not a sympathy case. Who does he think he is, patronising me. He thinks he is so much better than me; I’m going to smoke as much as I can in front of him.

The result: tension, awkwardness, an argument, an apology usually from both of us for saying something we didn’t really mean and then my mate still smokes. The reality check and this is the gold for everyone on the support crew or a part of a person’s life who you think ‘should’, ‘could’ or ‘would’ change for whatever reason… he never asked for my help. I was completely wrong! In health, where our expertise is more soft-skill based, recommendations of dietary change or psychological tools for change, this relationship is entirely different to asking your mate over to help you put up in an air conditioner. My intention wasn’t to patronise, but if you read the mindset above, my thinking was all about me! My perceived responsibility and negative judgement of the behaviour of smoking. I only ever wanted to help, and yet my thought process and badgering ultimately fuelled more of the action I wanted to help prevent. When an individual is ready and able to seek assistance, they will ask or at least drop enough hints for us to connect the dots. In that instance, however, it’s not your job to provide the advice, it’s your responsibility to provide the support. For the sake of your relationship, let someone else play bad-cop, let them do the ‘hard’ conversation thing. With that, you’re ready and able to be the greatest cheerleader and supporter you could ever wish to be. In the interim for your own sake, it’s essential for your sanity that you speak with someone removed from the relationship. Express your thoughts and feelings, allowing you some clarity, space and trust in providing the best possible assistance from your place in that person’s life. For those of you that are in the helping professions reading this, remember we deserve best mates as well and we don’t have to be everyone’s ‘knight in shining armour’. If asked for help from close friends, I refer on from now on and since creating that line mentally it’s been a lot easier on a personal level.

Hope all of that makes sense, I’m just taking my humbled self down the road with my tail between my legs:). Got a lighter anyone?


P.s. An update, after sending through to my mate to get his permission to publish this, he sent me back his approval with a screenshot of “6 months today since your last cigarette”. Turns out he did it when he was ready. For more on that check this link out change

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