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5 Ways to Know if You Should Say Something or Keep it to Yourself

5 Ways to Know if You Should Say Something or Keep it to Yourself

I don’t like confrontation. Never have. I’d rather keep things to myself than rock the boat.

But I also have this overdeveloped sense of responsibility where I think that I should be working on making other people feel better or helping them live their lives in ways that are outside my jurisdiction.

When combined, the tendency not to say what I know to be true while also feeling responsible for other people’s lives is tricky, at best.

I’m often left wondering if I should say something about what I see (which I really never want to do) so that I can help ease someone else’s pain, or if I should focus on keeping my own side of the sidewalk clean and let the people in my life be on their own journey.

So I return to the Serenity Prayer as often as I remember:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I find myself wanting to change things I can’t, I return to this.

When I find myself wimping out about speaking up, I return to this.

And when I can’t figure out if I should say something or shut up, I return to this.

In this dance between feeling like it’s my job to fix other people’s lives while simultaneously avoiding difficult conversations whenever possible, I want to share a couple of wisdom nuggets I’ve gathered in case they’re also helpful to you.

  1. Other people’s lives are not our responsibility.
  2. The best way to help someone else is to love them.
  3. Loving someone is not the same thing as trying to fix them
  4. If someone you love is endangering themselves or someone else, it’s time to say something, no matter how much you’d rather stay silent.
  5. Your truth heals. (And sometimes the only one who needs to know that truth in order for it to be healing is you.)

Here are some times when I’ve learned it’s okay to keep my truth to myself:

  • When the other person has not asked for my advice
  • When the other person is fundamentally safe
  • When the other person is not harming themselves or others with their behavior

That’s when I remind myself that other people’s lives are not my responsibility, and I instantly feel more relaxed.

Here are some times when I’ve learned that I need to gather the courage to speak up:

  • When someone else is hurting me (or has hurt me)
  • When there’s someone too young to advocate for themselves or unable to speak up for themselves for some other reason
  • When someone else is a danger to themselves or others (physically or emotionally)

When in doubt:

Keep your side of the sidewalk clean.

When you find yourself wanting someone else to change, see what you can change within yourself.

And remember always that the best way to help someone is to love them, right where they are.


Do you fall on the side of finding it hard to keep things to yourself or finding it hard to speak up? How do you determine when to say something and when to keep it to yourself? Which of the 5 wisdom nuggets resonates with you the most? Tell me in the comments!



  • Leslie

    Fantastic article. Thank you so much.

    I struggle with both but the thin you brought to light for me was “And remember always that the best way to help someone is to love them, right where they are”. Great point and I need to practice that asap!

  • Katie

    I use these three guiding questions: is it immoral? Is it unethical? Is it illegal? If the answer is yes to any, then speak up. It’s not worth risking your soul, your license (I’m in a licensed profession), or your freedom.

  • I find it hard to speak up at times when I know I need to. I recently encountered a situation where I had to speak up. My body was literally signaling to me before, during, and after. That is how I knew I had to say something. My colon went crazy, I physically became ill, and other people were emotionally hurt. The wisdom nugget that lights up for me is the last; truth heals and I may be the only one that needs to know it. I did speak me truth in this situation as hard as it was. I was literally fearful! Like a child! Although doing so has helped me to heal, I see others stilll in pain. I surrender and let that be trusting their own truth will heal when they are ready to look at it. Thank you for this today. 🙏🏽

  • V

    For me the question is “Does it affect ME?” Then I should be authentic and speak up if I’m interested in keeping the relationship or maybe leave if not. I’m not the police, that I need to protect others, nor do I believe I should I cast a judgement about what is best/safe for someone else…it’s tricky EVEN if they outright ask you. Saying something about someone else’s situation can be smothering or take away their power.

  • Jenni

    This arrived at the most hilarious time! I fall on the side of finding it hard to speak up and I relate to being overresponsible. I had a massage this week that just didn’t go well and I struggled with whether to speak up. When the spa sent me a review form by email I gave them an honest balanced view of my experience just happy to be cultivating courage with no attachment to an expectation about what they do with that. They just called me back apologised and offered me a complimentary treatment. I’m chuffed!

    • V

      A totally sensible thing to do! I once had my skin itch at the end of a massage due to something in the oil and didn’t say anything so as not to “be negative/unappreciative” and went home to shower. Now I see it would have been ONLY appropriate and useful to all parties.

    • Kate Northrup

      Wow! That’s definitely a situation where speaking up makes tons of sense because they asked for your review!

  • Nicole

    Wow! This is an issue that has been plaguing me lately – it’s like you wrote this blog post just for me! Thank you!! I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who faces this predicament! “Other people’s lives are not our responsibility”, is the nugget that really resonates with me! I have found myself in a few situations lately where I feel like I have a responsibility to share my insight with someone, because it could help them be better and yet, I’ve questioned if it is really my place to do so! Thank you again for this post – it is exactly what I needed!

  • Meg

    This SO resonates.
    I never know where the boundary is when you know someone is having a hard time and you think you can help – but aren’t sure whether to or not.
    It’s true we can’t help everyone in the perfect way!
    Thanks for this Kate!

  • Lynda

    I recently had a situation where I wanted to say something but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. I ended up commenting on social media but not specifically to the person. That resulted in a conversation that caused me to examine what I was thinking and also talking directly to the other person concerned. I do struggle with the wanting to “make everything better” for people I care about it and I know it’s not always possible. Thank you for the reminder of the Serenity Prayer–that’s a great go to.

  • I went to the Philippines to visit my grandma and I saw how they lived there. My aunt is is very smart and intelligent and excels in her career in the Senate Office in the Philippines believes that the only safe material to use in the microwave is plastic. She accumulated lots of plastic containers (the thin one) from take out orders and uses them for microwaving. I wanted to say something but does not know how. As a health coach I learned that if advise is not solicited do not give it and I struggle in this instance

  • Greetings,

    I value this approach, as I have that over-developed sense of responsibility. It’s usually the trait of a humanitarian. I’ve seen this conversation recently in personal relationship and specifically, in the feminist communities addressing “white fragility” about issues that have been silenced.

    Personally, I held things for too long given my training in personal responsibility but there is a healing happening between Indigenous Women and the White-Washing of Feminism and non-inclusive advocacy of all people.

    There is something called “Creative Conflict” that is necessary. I’m working through all of it, mindfully. Thanks for sharing.

  • mary bingham

    My Dad alway had a way of telling me things to ‘watch out for’ in the world so if I wanted more info, I could ask what he ment. We all know things that are right for us, but may not be for others. If they seem confused or in need of help, you can just say, “Well, this works for me, but my life is not like yours, so if you want, I will tell you what helps me and maybe you’ll find some nugget in it for you too, “.

  • For me the two things get mixed up in your post:
    1. speaking my truth: when I have to stand up for myself, when someone or something is overstepping my boundaries. That takes a lot of courage for me, because I tend to evade confrontation. So I often ignore my feelings and try to persuade myself, that it is not that bad and I shouldn’t make a fuss. But the words “should” or “shouldn’t” signal, that I am ignoring my own reality. I need to be aware of what I really feel and not focus on how I should feel. Because the way I feel tells me, what I need and then I can speak up and ask for what I need: could be respectful behaviour, could be a pause, could be consolation …
    2. The other thing you talk about is knowing when to offer help in any form to another person. If I am fearing to overstep boundaries (hit someone over the head with my advice ;-), I am free to ask: how do you feel, when I am telling you this, is it o.k. for you? Do you want me to tell, what I think about it or how I feel, when you are doing/saying this? I don’t always have to figure it out for myself, whether my advice is welcome.
    These are my thoughts and thanks for sharing your insight and for the inspiration!

  • Kathy

    This is so very timely! I’ve been torn on whether or not to say something to my boss about an incredibly offensive odor. It has been going on for 10+ months. She’s not the type of person that is easily approachable, but the smell is so very very very bad, it makes me think of death, and everyone in the office is commenting about it & how bad it is. I’m genuinely concerned for her health. How do you start the conversation?

    • That’s a tough one, because its your boss. First I would ask for permission to talk about a rather personal matter. Then I would adress my feelings: e.g. I am worried and uncomfortable. Then its very important to talk about the reason/your values: e.g. I need an authentic open atmosphere at work (adressing the matter that people are talking behind her back, not sure how or whether to mention this, though), I am sensible to odor and wish for a comfortable working environment. Then asking her, whether she is aware of the smell and if she knows what the cause is!? Very important: ask her how she is feeling about you telling her this. This question is an offer of connection and shows that you care about her. Before confronting her. I would rehearse this in a roleplay with someone You trust. Hope you find this is at least in parts helpful and encouraging.

  • Cristina Cho

    My biggest struggle is giving advice to someone who has the potential or option to change but doesn’t want to. Particularly family, not friends. Deep down I know loving someone is not the same as trying to fix them but my heart wants to keep trying the same thing expecting different results.

  • Sora

    Thank you so much for this post!!
    “Other people’s lives are not your responsibility.” Resonated with me very much, as well as ‘loving someone is not the same as fixing them.”
    However, there is something that I still struggle with.

    What if I feel responsible for the problems that my loved one is facing?

    For example, I feel that the lack of trust my brother has in others is my fault. As kids, my siblings and I would always put the blame on him for whatever accidents that happened in the house. For example, a broken lamp, vase, etc.

    At some point, I think he lost faith in telling the truth because no one would believe him anyway. He’s given up on gaining trust from his family members, and I think he doesn’t care if he lies or tells the truth, or bends the truth. If he is ever struggling with something, I don’t know if he will share it.

    I feel like this is my fault. I want to tell him that I do trust him now, and that I want to apologize for making him feel that no one believes him when we were little. But if I apologize, I think it would annoy him and he’ll tell me to stop making a big deal out of everything, because I do that often.

    So, should I still apologize to him?

  • Thank you for your insights, Kate.

    Agree with just about everything you’ve shared and I think it’s so important to learn to use good judgment on knowing when to say something vs. keeping it to yourself.

    One major point that I’d disagree with is your first one, that “Other people’s lives are not our responsibility.” I believe that as a human race and global society, all of our lives are our collective responsibility. Would love to explore this concept further, and how we can balance our responsibility for ourselves with our responsibility to the larger whole.


    • Kate Northrup

      I love your inquiry here Janice. I think it’s our responsibility to contribute to the greater good, but at the end of the day the way someone chooses to live their life is out of our control. Trying to control someone else’s life and thinking its our responsibility is torture. I hope that clarifies where I’m coming from.

  • Thank you. “The courage to know the difference”, sticks out for me.

  • A

    Definitely an over sharer. But know that I need to less reactive and more thoughtful in determining when it’s okay or right to do so!

  • Somer

    Thank you so much for this Kate!
    It was like you were inside my mind and heart. The polarization of our lives right now definitely has me staying on my sidewalk until someone comes and yanks me in the road forcing me be defensive and to speak without grace or equanimity. My truth never comes out in the right way when I feel caught of guard! Thank you for this balancing reminder!

  • I sometimes find it hard not to say something and feel incredible burden when I see others in trouble or suffering, which many times drains me from the very same energy they need which is that loving energy you speak about. This helped me a lot when you said that if they are safe, and not endagering themselves or others, also if they have not asked for my advice. That serenity prayer can be also such a great tool and will apply it thanks!

    • Kate Northrup

      Oh I’m so glad this was helpful Xenia. And yes…the serenity prayer! It’s a good one to use regularly!

  • Great article Kate! Thank you so much for sharing your sage wisdom. I am curious to know how you define “harm” in this context. Many thanks – journey well!

    • Kate Northrup

      That’s a great question and I think it’s so different for each person. But for me I think of it as physical harm and/or true emotional harm (like the kind that would take years of therapy to unravel.) “Harm” is such a tricky term because many things can be hurtful but not necessarily harmful, so this one is a case by case basis I find.

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