On seeking and offering advice

In giving advice, seek to help, not please, your friend. ~ Solon

Some of the hardest things I’ve had to hear about myself came clothed as advice. Advice, pointers, tips and hints stream from every direction on a regular basis, if you are listening. Delivered by the mouths and pens of both friends and strangers, advice also comes in the form of feedback given by your circumstances.

On the other hand, I am regularly asked by friends, family and business associates for my thoughts and counsel. I’ve found over the years that the most effective way to give advice is to follow two simple rules: (1) don’t limit yourself to giving only happy, warm, fuzzy advice and (2) be strategic in your delivery. If you look to package the advice you give in a way that it is most likely to be received, even the toughest words of wisdom have a chance of landing.

One alarming trend with parents today – likely in reaction to the long swing toward laissez-faire parenting over the last decade – is the phenomenon called helicopter parenting. Such parents hover over and snuff out any flame of self-actualization in their children by over-parenting, over-advising and over-controlling.

Edna St. Vincent Millay once quipped “I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” Children, like adults, must be given room to make mistakes, for experiential learning is one of the greatest and most penetrating forms of instruction.

To be an effective at receiving advice you must possess sufficient humility to overcome the embarrassment and shame of having been moving in the wrong direction. Far too many people over the years have refused to take advice and cut their losses out of “pride.” Is it really pride or just a lack of humility?

Life, even in these fortunate days where we live well into our 80s and beyond, is too short to spend in ignorance. Good advice can save you minutes, hours or even years when heard and heeded. You must be discerning when it comes to deciding which advice to follow, but you must also take great care not to let yourself off on a technicality.

Allow me to explain. I’ve seen buckets of good advice thrown by the wayside because the intended recipient took offense to how it was delivered. Perhaps the messenger had a bad hair day, was careless or insensitive or pushy when delivering the advice, but truly humble is the man, woman or child who can see past the delivery method or style, recognize the good advice at the heart of the message and make the change.

When it comes to advice, it is best to receive it and give it with humility and equanimity. Eternal progress is at your fingertips!

Obedience, Respect and The Future of Humanity

There is nothing more humbling than raising a child. Children are both a reflection of you – your values, your expectations, your worldview – and a fountain of self-expression. They offer constant reminders of the need to refine your own capacity of self-expression while challenging you to grow and develop as they do.

I had the privilege the day before yesterday of attending my son’s first kindergarten parent-teacher conference. Not sure what to expect, I went in expecting¬†a report card on two fronts. I was eager to see how well our child was living up to our expectations and to see how our expectations stood in relation to other parents in my son’s class.

His teacher gave a glowing report, offered suggestions relative to areas in which he could improve and suggested that we keep doing what we’re doing. I feel blessed to be raising a young man who loves challenges, who is inherently obedient and who has a wanderlust matched only by his enjoyment of new experiences.

Raising children is no easy task. They require constant nourishment and consistent love. They need boundaries that move out as they grow and privileges that remain dynamically linked to the responsibilities they carry. All of this while you go about living your adult life in the background!

As a parent you do the best that you can to provide what they need while in the nest of home. You must be careful not to over-protect or spoil them and you must work assiduously to develop a fundamental element of character called “obedience.” Obedience to me is not a mindless following, rather, it is an actively conscious state made possible by trust, respect and the regardful willingness to follow righteous leadership.

Obedience is not an end, but a means to an end. Obedience sets the stage for agreement and original self-expression, for you must learn to follow before you can learn to lead. Disobedience, on the other hand, is more often than not at the core of the failure to launch into adulthood.

Obedience is fostered whenever reasonable boundaries are carefully and respectfully enforced. Whenever arbitrary or unnecessary force is used to induce a state of obedience, the result is typically compliance, which looks like, but is nothing like, obedience. Children who simply comply submit to authority unwillingly while children who obey in the sense I am hoping to convey give themselves to authority lovingly and out of respect.

Inconsistent parenting is one of the primary causes of disobedience. If you set a boundary, respect the boundary yourself. Don’t hem and haw when the children wear you down. Don’t disrespect the rules out of a concern to quiet the children or to “buy” their love.

Children often try to play the father against the mother…don’t fall for it. Spousal agreement matters. If you are a single parent, you won’t have that problem, but they will find ways to play one aspect of your personality against the other. Either way, you have to stay on your toes.

Child-rearing is not an easy task and I wish that our schools could find a means of better preparing children for future parenting responsibilities. Book smarts have little to do with effective parenting and ACT  and SAT scores are no indicator of parental preparedness.

At the end of the day each parent must do what is right in his or her own eyes and heart. While I highly doubt that humanity will ever come to an agreement about the details of what that means, I do feel there are a number of qualities of character that can be considered universal.

More on that later.