Stopping Advice Giving

Task 18

There is something inside us that loves to help. But when the ego gets involved, this desire to help is almost a disease.

Giving advice comes from a suspect part of us. When we are in the advice-giving mode, we get out of the spiritual growth mode. Maybe it is just that we would like a little relief from our problems. We don’t have to think about our own problems if we think about someone else’s problems.

Maybe you have had the experience of someone telling you what to do. I find that annoying. For one thing, it puts me down! They are the expert, I am the fool. I am subject to the bounty of their great wisdom.

A friend of mine used to say advice is the easiest thing in the world to give as long as you don’t have to live with the consequences. Have you ever given or received advice that turned out to be really disastrous?

Once, when someone asked me for advice and I was foolish enough to give it, I offered my wonderful suggestion and this person said, “I already tried that.” I asked how it worked out and they said, “It was terrible, the worst thing I ever did!” So I had just told this person to do something that (a) they had already tried, and (b) had already proven to be a mistake.

As the advice receiver, I think of when I was driving from city to city in England, before they had superhighways. I got frustrated with the twisty, turning roads. One time I wanted to pass the car I was following but could never see far enough ahead to pass. Finally the driver ahead signaled me to pass. Despite my frustration, something told me not to follow that advice. Seconds later an oncoming car sped by! I would have been dead!

The Bible has some wonderful stories about advice-giving. When the prosperous King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam inherited an unstable kingdom. People from the northern tribes came and said, “We have been laboring under these terrible taxes and difficult conditions. Can you ease up a little bit?” So he went and asked his counsel for advice. He was told they were right and he should ease up.

He disliked that advice so he consulted another advisor, who told him, “Oh these people, if you give them an inch they will take a mile. Be tough on them.” So he was tough on them and they rebelled. The country split in half and never got back together again, all because of bad advice.

Like Solomon’s son, we tend to select the advice we want to follow. We rarely give up the power of decision to someone else.

There are several fundamental problems with the advice game. First, when someone opens up to you and you shift into advice giving mode, at that point you have stopped listening. In your mind, you have already solved their problem and are just waiting for a space in the conversation where you can give your advice.

The second problem is that advice-giving shows a lack of respect for the other person. It is telling them that they do not know how to run their life but you do.

The third problem is that people in the habit of seeking and taking advice get into an unhealthy spiritual state, because they are not using their own freedom and reason.

One of the things I loved about my upbringing was that there were so many kids in our family that Mom and Pop hardly ever told us what to do. They hardly ever knew what we were doing. The message I got was, “You are smart. Figure it out.”

So we each use our own brain and best judgment. The assumption of this task is that people will be able to survive without you giving them advice for a week.

Spend the next day observing your impulse to give advice directly or indirectly and then give up all advice-giving until our next meeting.