Relational Sanity Pt 8: Why I rarely give personal advice

adviceThis will be a different kind of post for me.  It won’t be biblical, at all.  It’s just something I’ve learned through years of dealing with people and was brought to the forefront again a few weeks ago.

I rarely give personal advice, and I have a simple reason for it.  I will quote Gregory House, “Everybody Lies.”

It’s almost always true — especially when people are asking for advice.  I would say that 98% of the people who ask for advice will only give you the information that will lead you to the advice they want.  That means that theoretically only 2% of people really want advice.  The rest of them want an excuse to do what they want to do.  That’s why they selectively feed you the information that will get you to the desired destination. Based on the information they give, if you have believed them, you are generally only able to give one piece of advice.  Since that is exactly what they wanted to hear, they are now free to do what they want and then blame you when it goes badly.

Sometimes a person will call me and start gossiping and I ask them, “Why are you telling me this?”

They reply, “Because I need to know what to do.”

I retort, “Then I need to ask you some questions.”

Them: “Just let me finish my story.”

Me:  “I can’t tell you what to do unless I know everything.  And all you have told me is how terrible they are.  If they are really that terrible and you are the victim, then I guess you need to make a choice to stay in the relationship or get out of it.  But since I don’t have their side of the story, I can’t really give you wise counsel.”

In general, it is a truism that people don’t want advice, they want permission and someone to blame when what they want to do blows up in their face. They may be seeming to be coming to you because they love and respect you, but in actuality, they want an ally. It’s when you give them the advice that they don’t want to hear – that you find out if they love and respect you.

So be careful. If they are painting a story that colors them as entirely innocent and the other person as entirely guilty (especially when it becomes apparent that they have bitter complaints about everyone), then you are probably being played. There is no law that says that we HAVE to give advice when asked for it. Advice is a privilege. If I am giving advice, then I am trusting the person I give it to – that they won’t use it against me or blame me when their execution of it goes wrong. There are always going to be a slew of people out there who want to do what they want to do but who never want to take responsibility for it. Such people are a plague – and when you come across plague the only safe action is to wash your hands and run in the opposite direction.

On the flip side, people who are apt to give advice without making sure they have all the information can also be a danger. Giving advice really is a responsibility and I have a creed that I live by, “If it’s easy to give, and I personally wouldn’t want to have to live with the consequences of that advice, then I keep my mouth shut.” There are people out there who don’t value my marriage, or my children, or even my life – but they are quick to spout off what they think I should do. Despite the fact that they let things slide with their own situations, in mine they want everything to be black and white – and they would only be too happy to judge me for not doing things that they themselves would fear to carry through with.

Someone who gives good, godly, compassionate advice is a rare jewel – if you find one, then don’t abuse them, and certainly do not blame them if you only gave them enough information to make sure you looked like an angel.


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