Are you one of those people to whom everyone seems to give advice, whether you need it or not? If you’re a first-time mom, you have my sympathies in this matter. I can’t think of too many other situations that trigger so many people telling you what you “should do”, without even trying to first learn about you and your specific circumstances. (I suppose that lottery winners probably have the same number of people suggesting how they should spend their money.)
Yes, some advice is sound, and there is much that we can learn from those who have gone through certain situations, teaching us what to anticipate before we experience similar things. Much advice is delivered thoughtfully and honestly, with an actual goal of helping the other person succeed (or perhaps to help someone avoid the pain of learning lessons the hard way). Still, that’s not always the way.
Although not the point of this article, if we tend give the other kind of advice (randomly spouting off things that we think to be true, regardless of their applicability), then – on behalf of harried recipients of unsolicited feedback everywhere – I hope that we can all find a better way. Wisdom is valuable, but often follows careful listening. Sometimes, the best thing to do for one of our friends is to understand their situation, sit with them (maybe with a hug), and – in certain cases – keep our advice to ourselves for another day.
Of course, I need to take my advice, here! Hopefully, you will find this site to offer suggestions for my audience to consider, and not one that arbitrarily compels its readers to fit into a specific mold. Except where God makes it clear that all of us human beings share certain attributes (like a sinful nature and the need for a Savior), I imagine a readership spanning a wide range of situations.
One of the wise authors of the book of Proverbs (I’m guessing Solomon, for this particular one), compares and contrasts what happens when various types of people receive correction:
Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd,
But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.
Proverbs 19:25 NASB
Note that appropriate feedback can make a difference across multiple kinds of recipients. As a result, some businesses mandate regular employee feedback as part of managers’ responsibilities, just as coaches are expected to deliver instruction to improve players’ skills and results.
Not every employee or athlete is equally ready to receive input, though. Some believe that they already have the answers, or that they know the best way to succeed on their own (sometimes with a certain amount of merit, other times just out of pride or ignorance). Others may not respect their teachers enough to appreciate the life experiences and wisdom that a more experienced person is trying to impart.
The same probably applies to each of us, in certain times and situations. We don’t generally like unsolicited advice (especially when it is not well-presented). Still, regardless of how we feel about it, a little loving correction can be good for us.
However, it takes humility to receive advice. We must choose to think of ourselves realistically, as those who haven’t yet reached perfection. We must also consider the fact that other people have much to offer us (which is difficult if we are convinced that we’re already “all that”).
In fact, the same principle can apply to our ability to take input from God. Intellectually, we may appreciate that an omniscient, loving, sovereign God would be qualified to tell us what to do. Emotionally accepting that can be a bit more difficult, though, especially when looking at a perfect God forces us to contrast our current behavior with His ideal for our lives (not to mention His untarnished holiness).
This openness – the ability to receive input from those who are wiser – may come naturally to those who have cultivated a life of strength with humility, but for others of us, it must be an intentional, conscious decision to suppress our pride and overconfidence.
Beyond that, in the corporate world where I work, I have observed a small number of people who have reached the point of maturity where they actively seek feedback from others. These individuals want to know what they can do better, and they realize that an external perspective can provide insight to their own blind spots.
While my pride and self-esteem are still obstacles to becoming like one of these people all of the time, I can at least see this as a goal. And, in rare cases, I have the lucidity to ask others what they see that I could do better. (I still have a ways to go, though.)
Earlier in this same book of Proverbs, the author sets up this principle:
Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.
Proverbs 19:20 NASB
My challenge today – starting as a challenge to myself, but extended to any others who are willing to take up this quest with me – is to not only be willing to listen to wise advice, but also to seek it out. It should be no blow to my pride, after all, to find that I am an imperfect human being (since I already figured that out).
May you find blessing in instruction. Not every advice is wise (and, just to be clear, some should be ignored outright), but the humble can use correction to become better: both for their own benefit, and to the blessing of others.