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!

Epitaph on the World

Henry David Thoreau, Image by WikipediaEpitaph on the World by Henry David Thoreau

Here lies the body of this world,
Whose soul alas to hell is hurled.
This golden youth long since was past,
Its silver manhood went as fast,
An iron age drew on at last;
‘Tis vain its character to tell,
The several fates which it befell,
What year it died, when ’twill arise,
We only know that here it lies.

Are we really powerless in relation to those things in our communities, in our country and in the world that cause despair, disgust and woe? Or do we yet have a voice? Thoreau declared the death of the soul of the world we inhabit, yet I have to believe that deep in the heart of man is a glowing ember of conviction that life can, and should be better.

I’m often astonished by how quickly change occurs in the human experience. What was hardly imaginable just months ago can become the new normal in the blink of an eye, even without cataclysmic change!

The human being is an extremely adaptable creature. At the same time, we human beings are creatures of habit. The status quo is malleable concept, not one that is set in stone. What is new, especially in American culture, can become the new norm with little ado.

Warren G. Harding, Image by WikipediaWarren G. Harding‘s campaign promise when he ran for President in 1920 was for “a return to normalcy” (i.e. a return to life the way it was before World War I). I’ve wondered throughout my life what “normal” really is. Is there an original “normal” from which we’ve strayed in the course of human history?

We like to think that we’ve evolved form our humble beginnings as primates, yet I have to hold out for the possibility, at least, that the theory (and it is just that) could be faulty. I would be remiss from a scientific standpoint were I to fail to leave room for other explanations, until the matter is resolved conclusively. There is evidence scattered about the earth – things that make you say “hmmmm?” – that doesn’t fit within the tidy theories that have their roots in another theory, that of uniformitarianism.

Solon, Image by WikipediaSignificant evidence suggests that there were mighty and advanced civilizations on earth that were lost due to cataclysmic events. According to Plato’s dialogues “Timaeus and Critias, the Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet, Solon (638-558 B.C.), visited Neith’s temple at Sais and received from the resident priests an account of a forgotten ancient civilization.

Then there are massive structures around the earth, the Great Pyramid in Egypt, for instance, that has been described by modern architects and builders as being impossible to build using today’s technology. Built to exacting standards that far surpass and building parameters we use today, it is hard to imagine how a bunch of slaves could have managed their construction so long ago. Part of me has to wonder if there is more to the story…

At any rate, Thoreau laments the loss of the “soul” of our world in his poem. I too feel a certain sadness when I stop to consider the general condition of our world, of humanity and of the future. I cannot help but ask myself, “is this the best that we as human beings can do?”

No matter how far we think we’ve come, I hesitate to resign myself to the explanations that are so far given in both religious and scientific circles for who we are, why we’re here and from whence we’ve come.

What about you? Have you stopped to consider whether you have deliberately or perhaps just by default given up on the world? Say it isn’t so!