Jan 3, 2013

The Problem Is Choice

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Where the writer ends, the director begins.
Where the director ends, the actor begins.
Where the actor ends, the audience begins.

That old adage -- no I don't know the source -- is a reminder of something crucial that extends far beyond the world of theater. Put simply, you can't control other people. Worse, if you try, you suffocate both life and art.

That fundamental truism popped into my head today when I read a post in The Awl entitled "Advice is Futile."

After editing an advice column for two years, I’ve decided that there is no such thing as advice. There are only problems and the ways people handle them. Advice, on the other hand, is when you hear a description of someone else's problem and then tell the person something about yourself. Hopefully whatever you say is funny or interesting, but it has little to do with actually helping anyone. It may seem or feel like it does, but there are always more variables than we'll ever be able to see or understand, and best case scenario you’re pressing on the problem a little bit in a way that engages the problem-haver.

. . .

Because either the asker doesn't take the advice, since everyone just does what they want or are otherwise going to do anyway, especially if it's cheat on their boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, or wives (oh my god, you should see the inbox; at first it was sad but now it's actually kind of comforting that everyone’s the same), which can create a rift between the advice-giver and the advice not-taker. Or they take the advice, except that's not particularly helpful, either, since it strips them of the opportunity to learn the lesson first-hand (presuming there is one), which you already have (again, presumably). And telling someone to trust you blindly can come off as condescending. Or like wrapping a finish-line ribbon around someone’s chest instead of encouraging them to run the race. Kind of. Maybe? I don’t know. More on how little I know in a moment.

Now, one could fairly argue that I give advice for a living. I do, after a fashion. But I learned, long before I started working as a reader, effectively what columnist Edith Zimmerman has learned. Most people won't do what you tell them to do and, much of the time, that's probably for the best. So one thing I have always emphasized with my clients is that anything I say is my opinion based on my interpretation and that I would never tell them what choices they should make. Anything, anyone tells you -- whether they're human, spirit, angelic, or... other (???) -- is really just food for thought. I tend to put a lot more stock in what my guides tell me than mere mortals, but I still give it all fair consideration.

Shaman Christina Pratt talks about our "truth cord" -- a fiber of inner knowing -- against which new information must be "bounced." I've always found that a useful illustration. One way or another, we all need to evaluate for ourselves if recommendations from others, whether we've asked for input or not, feel right.

Neo: But if you already know, how can I make a choice?

The Oracle: Because you didn't come here to make the choice, you've already made it. You're here to try to understand *why* you made it. I thought you'd have figured that out by now.

~ The Matrix Reloaded 

The consequences won't always be pretty.

Many years ago I was at a gathering. There was a man there I'd never met before who shared with his friends that he hadn't been around for a while because of an incident. He had gone to a psychic some time before who'd warned him to be very careful crossing streets and to always look both ways before stepping off the curb. She saw a horrible accident if he failed to heed that advice. She also gave him a time-frame. He'd forgotten about that part of the reading, but he had plenty of time to contemplate it during the months he spent in the hospital, in traction, wearing a full body cast.

I've thought about that story many times since as my clients regaled me with stories of things that went horribly, horribly wrong, because they'd forgotten things I'd said or, simply, went another way. I've had clients who barely, but thankfully, escaped situations I'd advised against with their lives. I've had clients who've been emotionally, or even physically scarred, in relationships I've warned them about. But I've also had clients who did things I did not recommend that saw the evolution of other opportunities that turned out very, very well. The one thing I'm very certain of, is that whether their choices turned out badly or well, they've learned very valuable things that they might not have if they'd followed my advice to the letter.

I understand the frustration of psychics, therapists, well-intended friends, family, and everyone else who has given great advice only to see it ignored. I also learned long ago that, in many cases, when people ask for advice, they really just want someone to listen to them far more than they want recommendations. We just don't have much of a framework in our culture for anyone to ask for that -- simply to be heard without judgment.

If you can't stand having your advice ignored, I would advise against the advice business. More often than not, when someone is going one direction, where you would go another, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. And it's never our place to tell other people what to do.

When you try to control other people you take away their power. Our ability to choose IS our power.

1 comment:

  1. "If you can't stand having your advice ignored, I would advise against the advice business. More often than not, when someone is going one direction, where you would go another, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. And it's never our place to tell other people what to do."

    Mmm, someone can use this bit of ...advice(?) hehe

    Agent Smith asks: "Why, Mr. Anderson, why do you persist?"
    And Neo's reply is:



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