I was reading an article about the diet of pioneers on their journeys to the West. It said a party of four was advised to bring: 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon, 200 pounds of dried beans, 120 pounds of biscuits (probably the “hardtack” kind, not fluffy ones), 120 pounds of dried fruit, and pounds of other items such as seasonings, sugar and various chemicals.
Although meat was hunted and fish was caught along the trail, often beans were the main food. The article commented that both men and women cooked on the trip, but one thing was a no-no: Cooks didn’t go to other campfires to give advice. They stayed at their own wagon and–to use the phrase I adopted for this article–stirred their own beans.
Don’t you wish people you interact with at work would heed that advice? We all need to spend more time stirring our own beans and less time stirring the beans of others, so to speak. (I’m sure there’s something vaguely off-color about that analogy, but it still makes sense to me!)
There are certainly times when advice or help is asked for and you can give it briefly, then step back and let the person take care of things on their own. There are also times when the outcome is your responsibility and you need to do more than give advice, you need to correct or completely change the way something is done. (Even then, you need to be certain the change is really, truly necessary.) Those situations involve minding business that is yours or at least partly yours.
The advice or false help that isn’t needed or wanted is when it is merely meddling. For example, you’re working very hard–maybe rushing–on a project or task that you have expertise in and experience doing. In the middle of that, someone who has plenty of his or her own work to do and knows nothing about what it takes to do your work, gets involved under the guise of helping.
*”I know you were placing those orders but I went ahead and did ours so you wouldn’t have to.”
*”I saw the handouts on the copying machine so I distributed them.”
*”I know you said you wanted to contact people personally, but I was in the meeting so I told them about it already.”
*”You said you’d bring it, but I wasn’t sure you’d remember, so I brought some too.”
*”I know you use that vendor, but I’m sure you can get it cheaper if you just check around.”
*”I put those tools away because I didn’t think you were using them.”
*”That’s no way to do it. Here, move over and let me show you how.”
*”I know it’s not my business, but really, don’t you think you should do this instead?’
If you try to explain why the advice isn’t very helpful the rescuer will usually insist it could be helpful if only you would see it their way. Finally, if you’re not very gentle about it, you’ll get a huffy, “I was only trying to help.” as Mr. Fixit or Ms. Rescuer hangs up or stalks off.
The bottom line: Most of us have enough problems handling our own work without trying to tell others how to do theirs. If something being done by someone else will harm your own ability to work, that’s one thing. But, if you just think you have a better idea, can show how smart you are, want to rescue people and make them grateful to you, or whatever your other motivation might be, stay at your own campfire and stir your own beans.
This is a cookbook with some good recipes and interesting tips from pioneer times.