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June 26, 2015

The Sacred Nature of Giving Advice.

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The word sacred gets bantered around a lot, I know, but there are times when it is quite simply the best word for the situation.

When a friend recently popped up on one of my social media chat feeds asking for advice, I figured it was going to be a fairly straightforward conversation. She and I often exchange chats throughout the day and it’s normal for her to appear out of nowhere with a question about something in her life when I’m swamped with work. Obviously when she asks if I have a minute, I say “yes.”

As I read what she feverously typed out to me, I realized this was no ordinary request for advice. I found myself pausing, fingers hovering over the keys. This wasn’t the light banter over a trivial situation that I was used to; she was asking me advice about an important long-term relationship.

At that moment, I realize that what I said to her in type could have massive ramifications for months—or maybe years—to come. I suddenly felt the gravity of the situation settle on my shoulders. For all I knew, my words could be the determining factor in my friend’s romantic future: to try again or to, ultimately and finally, stop trying forever.

When we give advice to others, I wonder how often we consider the impact we potentially have on their lives. Our words of advice may be about something as simple as the color of a dress. They may have the not-so-cosmic-impact of missing an opportunity to stumble upon a two-for-one special at our local café. On the flip side, our words of advice could mean a life-changing redirection for someone. And there’s no real way to know its impact.

The Athenian lyric poet Solon is quoted as having said, “In giving advice, seek to help, not to please, your friend,” but Will Rogers said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” So what’s the answer? How should we give advice to our friends, coworkers and acquaintances?

It seems that we should start by putting ourselves in our friends’ shoes. We should consider what we’d want to hear and how we’d want to hear it. Then, we should proceed carefully.

Our friends need time to rant—to rage, if necessary—about a problem. Sometimes an empathetic ear and a reply of, “Wow, that’s hard,” is all they’re really looking for.

We should never be on the lookout for an opportunity to offer advice—and unsolicited advice is usually a bad idea. Our friends come to us because they need help, not to make us feel good about being the ones giving it.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that it’s not up to us to make decisions for others. It’s up to us to listen first.

But when our friends actually want to hear our point of view, as mine did in regards to her relationship, we should always be as honest and kind as possible. We care about the people who seek our advice, and they regard us in such a way that shows that they respect us for our opinion. That is a sacred, beautiful thing.

 

Author: Megan Winkler

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Flickr

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Megan Winkler