Giving Advice – The Danger Zone


“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.” -Henri Nouwen

This is a gift.  To offer comfort and support; instead of advice.  To listen.  To share our own experience, strength and hope.  When my brother came to me after making a series of choices he regretted, I did not lecture or give advice.  I simply shared a time in my life when I regretted a choice. What that was like, the impact it had and what motivated me to make different choices.  He was receptive and started to ask me questions.

So why do I try to fix?  For me it’s a way to feel in control when I feel powerless.  It’s also a way to feel superior and mask internal insecurities.  That insecurity is always “Am I enough?”.

Matt and I are often in a position to help others.  Our home is a revolving door of family and friends.  Sometimes they stop by to offer their support and see how we are doing. Sometimes they stop by because they need support and want to share how they are doing.  We laugh, play cards, relate, share our own experience and do our very best to never ever give advice.  That is a vast contrast from how it used to be.

Not too long ago, there was a time in our life were we either self appointed and/or were propped up to be the ‘experts’. People came to us for advice and we were foolish enough to give it.  We believed we had the ‘formula’ and were all to eager to share it.

What I’m learning and may be working on for the rest of my life is that fine line between lending support and “fixing”. Fixing implies the person is broken. I’ve said some really stupid and insulting things to others when I’ve been in fix it mode and I can imagine I did it many times without really realizing it.

In turn I’ve had others say some pretty silly things to me in the name of giving me advice.  They were so far off base in some ways that it became clear they had not taken the time to know me at all.  They seemed to enjoy their superior position and talking down to me as though I were in kindergarten.

As I’ve matured I’ve been able to laugh at this folly.  As I can laugh at my own foolishness, I can observe the silliness in others without their words hurting my feelings.   I really don’t know what’s right for others. I can ask them questions, I can make some educated guesses but I can also choose to be open to the idea there are possibilities I’m not considering.

What also comes to mind is the Course In Miracles quote “WE TEACH WHAT WE NEED TO LEARN”.  Whenever I feel the need to drill down on someone to show them the lesson they are missing, it’s a reminder that perhaps putting the focus on my own reactions and what I need to learn would be wise.

I believe for me that people are mirrors.  They mirror back aspects of our personalities.  If we think the world is full of stupid people that we need to either ‘fix’ or run over then guess what?  Is it possible we are the ones missing something profound by our own limited view of the world? When we harp on others for being too (fill in the blank) perhaps we may consider our own relationships and ask ourselves is this a defect others would use to describe me?  Then perhaps I can be the change I am seeking in another and stop ‘harping’ on what I perceive they need to change.

And most importantly when someone treats me in a way I do not like I’ve learned to reflect on my own life and ask this question:

“Is this how I showed up?  Is this how it must have felt to the other person?  Is this how I want to show up?  Ouch!  Let me work at showing up differently and treating others the opposite way of how I feel I’m being treated.”

Which leads me to another realization.  I have grown equally in my life not because I’ve valued the leadership of another. I’ve often grown because I didn’t like the way the leadership showed up and decided to not act that way in my own life.

Today, the most powerful teachers in my life are my children. They remind me what the world looks like through joyful eyes. They remind me to move with abandon, to laugh at silliness, to get over things quickly, to enjoy each new adventure, to focus on the present and to bounce out of bed ready to enjoy a new day.

“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.  It is never of any use to oneself.” – Oscar Wilde.

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