When we ask others for advice, we shouldn’t be asking them to run our lives
“Thank goodness for my oldest sister! Without her, I would have made all the wrong decisions. She tells me what to wear, what to eat, who to associate with, how to raise my kids, and how to spend my money. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Actually, you might have figured all this out on your own if you hadn’t been “lucky” enough to have someone tell you how to live your life. Maybe you’d have been able to tune into your own inner guidance, follow the leanings of your own heart, and learn from your own experience.
Letting someone else tell you how to live your life is an abdication of your responsibility; you came here to learn and grow. You can’t do that if you aren’t willing to experiment, make mistakes, fail badly, do some introspection, try again, and repeat. We must be willing to take the risk of getting it wrong so that we can figure out how to get it right.
You Decide — It’s Your Life
“But everyone asks for and accepts advice! Why do I have to reinvent the wheel, learn things the hard way? I can save myself so much suffering from drawing on the wisdom of others.”
Yes, expert advice does help us in life. When we need help in a realm that requires knowledge we lack, then turning to someone with training and experience is the wise thing to do. It’s certainly better to learn from a book, a course, a parent, or a mentor how to invest money before throwing our life’s savings into our friend’s start-up.
But when we seek information and input from others, it’s only to help us make our own choices. Even our doctor may describe the pros and cons of several different interventions, but then leaves the final decision in our hands.
“Are you saying that I should be the one to decide whether to have surgery or not, despite the fact that I know nothing about medicine?”
What I’m saying is that you need to make a decision based on the information your doctor and others give you. Ultimately, it’s your call. Your doctor can recommend one direction or another, but you may collect second and third opinions and decide to either take the original physician’s advice or decline it.
Even if you decide that you’ll ask no questions and do whatever your first doctor recommends, that is a decision that you’ve made, as with all decisions that affect your own life.
Advice-Givers, Take Heed
“Okay, I can see that certain decisions arise out of information gathering. But what about when we want advice because we’re too close to the issue to see things clearly? When it comes to marriage and parenting, for example, we’re so emotionally involved that our thinking can become cloudy. Isn’t this a time to get a more objective opinion?”
Yes. Shlomo Hamelech tells us in Sefer Mishlei that someone who thinks he knows everything is actually a fool and that a truly wise person consults others for advice. Therefore, seeking counsel is something we should do.
However, the advice-giver must understand his or her role. This person has been asked to give serious consideration to your dilemma. You then give serious consideration to the input this person provides. However, like the doctor, the advice-giver is only sharing a perspective and opinion. You must use the information to make your own decision.
When an advice-giver misunderstands his or her role and crosses over into the realm of control (“This is what you have to do…”), or when we misunderstand our obligations and hand over our responsibilities to another person, problems result. We may fall into blaming others for leading us astray (when we actually granted them permission to do so), and we lose the ability to learn and grow into our full selves.
Excessively insistent advice-givers are well-intentioned; they want to save us from failure and pain. However, ultimately, the best way they can help us is not by insisting that we follow their advice, but by standing back and making room for us to live our lives.
Just as Hashem steps back to give us free will, advice-givers need to trust our learning process. By doing so, they go beyond solving our immediate problem to participating in a far bigger project — the process of our personal evolution and the acquisition of our own wisdom.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 658)