I posted last week’s story knowing I might hear back about being estranged from my mom.
Sure enough, that evening I received an email from a stranger. She told me that I’ve wasted enough time and I need to go to Mom.
My emailer was well meaning, I’m sure – just like any one of us who thinks we know better what actions someone else needs to take. I know because I used to be one of those well-meaning people.
Well-meaning, but not wise and maybe not even safe.
If I had received such a message during one of my depressed times, when getting out of bed didn’t hold much appeal, I may not have lived to read it twice. Not that it would have been my emailer’s fault, but why chance advising others what to do when it’s seldom beneficial, and it might be downright dangerous.
I’ve never benefited from someone telling me to return to a painful relationship when I’m finally trying to take care of myself.
I’ve never benefited from someone insinuating I’m not doing God’s will when I’m detaching from others.
I’ve never benefited from someone making a point about prayer while telling me how God healed their relationships, all the while, even from my knees, mine look like a warzone.
No, instructions like these haven’t helped, but I’ve graciously listened and understood that people intend their advice to be helpful, not harmful.
Nevertheless, these sorts of statements sometimes do harm, so I’m writing what I’ve figured out from being sandwiched between giving unsolicited advice and being given it.
I’ve learned …
- To ask myself, “Did they ask for my advice?” If not, don’t give it.
- To ask others when they’re talking about a problem, “Do you want sympathy or suggestions?” If they say sympathy, don’t give them suggestions. If they say suggestions, give them both.
- To accept that we don’t know what actions need to be taken by others. Trust me on this one – we really, really, really do not know. For years, I thought I had others’ answers, I thought I knew what would improve their lives, I thought I knew what was best for them to do, but I didn’t and I don’t and I never will. I’m wiser for knowing I don’t know.
If you’re still compelled to give unsolicited advice after reading this, here’s my advice to you – be bold and forthright and make the advice so ridiculous that the recipient either takes it or takes off, like what I received from my 70-year-old friend and mentor. She denied ever telling me this, but I reassured her that God spoke through her when she said this about a friendship I knew I shouldn’t be in, but didn’t want to let go of, “You just as well get a gun and shoot yourself if you’re going to stay in that relationship.”
Now, my friends, that’s the kind of bold, forthright, ridiculous guidance I can wrap my head and heart around, although I first considered never speaking to my friend again.
I’d like to hear what you think about advice.
WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I also appreciate Gilbert K. Chesterton’s advice about advice, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”