Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On giving and taking advice....

Thanks to all who responded to my post yesterday.

It got me thinking about something. When I called Ajahn S., I knew for certain that I would do whatever he said. That, in my mind, is the primary point of asking for advice and allowing ourselves to listen to another person, acknowledging that he or she might have more wisdom than we do.

Last night, I was listening to talk radio and came upon a program where some woman was advising callers on a variety of topics.

The core message in all of her responses was "you have to do what's right for you".

Excuse me?

Now, if I knew what to do, I'd f***ing do it, right? If I knew what was right for me, I wouldn't be on the phone!

It seems we are reluctant to give real advice to each other. Between political correctness and supposed respect for all points of view, we've forgotten an essential part of being in this world together. We've forgotten that guidance is just as important in our lives as being heard now and then when we want to vent.

It's important to know the difference. I often ask people what they want before they start talking and fashion my response accordingly.

There's a normal hierarchy that developes among us. Some of us need guidance. Some give guidance. Some do a little of both. We all have our special areas of knowledge so there is no such thing as someone who is not capable of giving advice to others. Whether it's something as simple as how to make pumpkin bread or how to save a relationship, anyone who has been living on this planet has some knowledge to share.

When I met Ajahn S., I was new to Thai culture and beliefs. It seemed I was learning something new every day.

And no one was reluctant to inform me when I screwed up!

Least of all, him!

Yet I watched his life, the way he thinks, the way he reacts, the way he believes, the way his life is a shining example of all the best that culture and way of life have to offer. He just exudes spirituality and wisdom. His commitment to traditionalism and "old school" values is beyond question. His daily life is an example for all of us.

He doesn't chatter. He speaks four languages but uses all of them sparingly. He quietly listens and thoughtfully replies and is rarely off-target. That comes from his many years as an observer of life and people.

If he had said to me, "Well, ya know, you have to do what's right for you", I would have been pretty damned upset. It probably would have pushed me over the edge. At the moment I was talking with him, my idea of what was right for me was to go across the street, buy a bottle of Tanqueray and get smashed. I would hope that anyone who knows me and even cares about me casually would not say they "respect" my decision as though it an acceptable option. It was not an option and if I hadn't been in some pretty serious pain, it wouldn't have even come to my mind.

All of this to say that I hope we will all be a bit more willing to risk sharing our knowledge with others, with being a bit more pro-active in making a difference. That is part of the contract, as far as I'm concerned, of sharing this planet. It's part of the human-being contract, something we all can do for each other.

We might be wrong on occasion. Ultimately each person will decide for herself whether or not the advice has merit but giving advice is never wrong ~ and it's never disrespectful ~ unless it is unsolicited.

Just my humble opinion... :)




Caro said...

Your blog often guides mr and helps me to know I'm on the right track. Even the wiseman needs advice from time to time.. May the next few weeks bless you with the stength to find your balance.

Anonymous said...

If only the people knew which was their primary role: giver or receiver of guidance. Which was their area of expertise.

QT said...

Chani - one thing I am not shy about giving is advice! I always joke that I am the "Cassandra" of my social group, always warning, but never being listened to, and then always having to bite my tongue to not say "I told you so".

The not being listened to I think has to do with my delivery - I don't couch anything. Perhaps if I were more gentle people would actually listen to me, but then again, it is just not my style.

Anvilcloud said...

One point is that in a way you did know what was right for you. It was the right time for you to seek advice, and you knew from whom to seek it.

Julie Pippert said...

Hmmm. I will think further on it, but right now, as good a point as you make, I don't quite fit on the exact same page.

I often ask people for perspective. People in my life are wise, insightful, and care about me. I know they can help me talk my way through a morass and figure out what it is that I need to do.

I appreciate and value what they offer. It's beneficial when they help me remember what is right to me, what is valuable to me. It helps to have them tell me what they think, or what they might do in my shoes. Eepecially all the whys.

I feel it is an unfair infringement to ask them to tell me what to do.

That said, if I am in error, or somehow stepping on toes or causing a problem, I do expect honesty---usually. The times I do expect it is if I am learning, and/or likely to repeat an error. Other times it is simply politeness to let a one time accidental gaucheness pass.

So, I appreciate input, but ultimately believe it is up to me to determine what is right for me to do.

The times I have received straightforward advice, it was often contrary to my nature, and instead represented the agenda of the other was what *they* needed, not me.

It's rare that we can completely suspend that.

Julie Pippert said...

P.S. I have very mixed feeings about those phone in talk advice things. It seems hard for me to believe that you can get the guidance and support you need from someone you spend 5 minutes (give or take) of your life with, period.

I guess it's the POV about guidance that I have. I really rely on people who know me and my life well enough to discuss it.

meno said...

"If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.
If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad."

-Sorry to quote song lyrics to you, but i've always thought these illustrate perfectly why we can't just follow our own desires all the time. Like your wish to go off and get drunk, they are not always a good idea.

I don't give advice to people unless they directly ask. I got tired of being told "Yes, but..." followed by a reason why they couldn't possibly do whatever i suggested.

Laurie said...

Most of the people in my life are hesitant to give advice, preferring the "you have to do what's right for you" (cop out) approach.

I have recently made a friend who is not afraid to give me advice when asked. It means the world to me and so far his advice has been right on target, but even if weren't, it would be important because he cares enough to take the time to give it to me.

liv said...

I don't know if I agree with your last thought. I think it might be because in the south there is a certain way about women that makes them seem as if their 'advice' is given of the purest intention. It is not. It is dripping in honey coated drawl, and it is poison.

So, rather than say that advice is always okay as long as it's not unsolicited is not enough for me. I think that it is all about the intention with which it is dispensed.


MsLittlePea said...

Most people just want permission or validation to do whatever it is they were going to do in the first place and ,"you have to do what's right for you," gives them that. I've decided to try to stop giving advice even when I'm asked because I don't have all the answers. I was in a situation recently where a close friend offered some unsolicited advice and it ended up really hurting me because I felt that she was criticizing my life choices. So I liked the last paragraph you wrote best.

On the other hand, it takes a really strong person to ask for help. "Guidance" is one of my favorite words.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think that telling someone just to do what's right for them is often a cop-out, offered in lieu of giving real thought and concern to another's problem.

Of course, some people are too lazy or insecure to make their own decisions about anything. They really want friends and relatives to do it for them. If they can pull this off, they get the added benefit of it not being their own fault if it doesn't work out.

So, yes. We all need to accept that we are ultimately responsible for ourselves. But asking for guidance from one we trust and respect should be more acceptable in our society. Instead, we tend to stuff our elders, wise or not, into nursing homes and other forgotten crannies. Americans are so paranoid about "catching" old age from the elderly that we don't seek their wisdom very often.

It's a very sorrowful situation, and benefits nobody. How wonderful it is that you have someone you trust and respect to guide you when you have exhausted your internal resources.

And don't underestimate the symbiosis in this: When you allow Ajahn S. to help you, he gets to accomplish his own life's purpose for that moment in time, according to plan.

jen said...

but is he hot? he sounds hot.


yes. it is our contract. it's about lifting all of us up and allowing others to do the same.

Pam said...

Often we know what we need but need to hear it said by a trusted friend. Support when we falter is what keeps us going and it's a give and take that strengthens us.

From reading your blog I get the message that you know yourself very well and are honest about your ups and downs. It's good that you have a friend who is there when the need arises.

Anonymous said...

I liked very much the " human-being contract."

Bob said...

I hate to offer flat out advice. I usually condition it, whether it is for tires or for relationships. I don't claim to know it all, so my approach is to ask guiding questions and let the other person talk - they will often answer their own questions.

If they have no idea, then I will offer suggestions.

Hel said...

Advice offered with compassion and wisdom has often saved my sanity in the past.

Suddenly things are clear again.

Thailand Gal said...

Caro, thanks. I'm glad I come up with something here on occasion that is of use to someone.

I'm always the first to admit that I need guidance.. in many ways.


De, patterns. If you notice a particular pattern, that's probably your primary role. If the role isn't working though, I believe we have a right to change it.


QT, I'm glad. And your style is your style. There's someone who needs to hear it. It's so much better than the rather benign and indifferent "do what you think is right".


Anvil, good point :)


Julie, we may not be as far off the same page as it seems. I think you've said the same thing I did in different words. Yes, of course we have to use discernment and make decisions about the sort of advice that will be useful.

Example: I wouldn't ask for spiritual advice from a crack addict.

As for the personal agenda, yes, we definitely have to use our gift of discernment for that, too. As soon as someone starts trying to sell me something, whether its a product or an ideology, I'm outta there.


Julie, the phone in advice things are nothing more than entertainment. I often listen to Dr Laura and am amazed at the people who call in.


Meno, the "yes, but" stuff really just tells me that someone doesn't want the advice or guidance. If the objections are legitimate, it's worthwhile to address them (ex: someone might not know how to go about contacting such or so.. and will need more info) but if it's just "yes, but" for everything.. well...


Laurie, that's exactly how I feel about it. Ajahn S. cares enough to challenge me when I need it or guide me when I need it. There were times when I thought he was pushy and too forthcoming with his opinions but came to realize he really did have my best interests in mind.

Many others have done the same.


Liv, yeah.. definitely. I wouldn't choose to get guidance from anyone who seemed insincere.


MsPea, I often think guidance is one of the best things we can offer each other. The point, again, is discernment and knowing when it's time to offer it or receive it.


Susan, right.. of course! Discernment. It's everything!

I do believe it is part of Ajahn S's life path to offer these things to others. He can be a tough guy sometimes, too. When he met me and I said I wanted what the Thai people seem to have, he challenged me and made absolutely sure that I meant it. His attitude was "don't insult me with dilletantism. If you don't really mean it, get lost!" Once convinced that I did mean it and would do my best to learn, he opened up his heart to me.


Jen, given the climate in Thailand, one can assume he's hot most of the time. :)


Pam, yes.. I try to be honest about my short-comings, strengths and weaknesses. What good would anything I say be without that level of honesty.

Sometimes I am a royal pain in the ass. People who know me, know that.


G, me, too! Someone will perhaps write it out one day. The Human Being Contract.


Bob, it does need to be fashioned for and by the individual. If we say something the wrong way or take it the wrong way, there's no learning there.


Hel, that kind of advice has saved my life on many occasions. The fierce independence tauted in this culture as the be all and end all, ultimate goal, is something that costs most of us a lot in our quality of life.