Welcome to A Preconceived Moment, where I share short reflections on the preconceptions that shape our every day thoughts.
When I was younger, I used to consider myself someone who was good at giving advice. I’ve always enjoyed deep and heartfelt conversations, and I’ve found myself in my fair share of serious talks with friends and family regarding the challenges and complexities of life. And in many of those conversations, I did find myself giving advice.
Now I imagine some of the advice I’ve given to people over the years wasn’t terrible. I do think I’ve helped a few friends in making important decisions. But with time, I think I’ve realized that more oft than not, I may have been giving advice when all that was sought was a listening ear. This isn’t such a radical realization. It is a common “teaching” that sometimes the best advice is no advice at all, and that letting someone simply vent about their problems to you is the way you can be most valuable. Rather than give advice, better to ask questions to help your friend elucidate what actually lies at the heart of the problem and to brainstorm how such problem can be solved.
Beyond this though, I’ve come to realize that even in those conversations when someone did explicitly seek my advice, that despite my best efforts, I may have been giving the wrong advice. A common question people ask their closest confidantes is, “what would you do?”. It’s a very logical question, one that we all ask people when we are uncertain about something or tentative about what we deem as a major life decision. But the problem with the question, is that what I would do isn’t necessarily what you should do. We are all such diverse people. We all want different things. We have overlapping, but also distinct, values and interests. So what I would do, and what I would I would tell my best friend to do, might be totally opposite in some cases.
So then, why not just ask advice from the people closest to you, who truly know you better than anyone else? Well, that’s a good idea. We should ask canvas advice from people we trust and respect. But when listening to that advice, taking it with many grains of salt. Because as well as someone knows you, nobody knows you better than yourself. One of the beauties of the human mind is also one of its shortcomings … its complexity. It is literally impossible to know the way someone else thinks and feels, regardless how intricately and articulately they try to explain it.
So yes – it is okay to take advice from someone. But as you receive advice, know that there is an inherent limitation in the ability of the human species to give advice, because we are unable to truly know the wants and feelings of the person to whom we are giving it. And as we give advice, as well-intentioned as we might be, perhaps it is best to acknowledge our own shortcomings in giving it, and to temper the conviction with which we presume to know what might be best for someone else.