Sunday, 5 May 2013

Talk To Me - 7 - Wise Counsel

One thing I want to make quite clear when I am talking about advice, and how it can be sought after, or simply hurled at you without warning, this is not what governs the quality of it.

The problem with advice is that it is an opinion. And there is no such thing as an unbiased opinion. The definition of opinion would seem to make that obvious, but after all this time, of humans advising other humans, and getting it spectacularly wrong, we still seem to forget that advice is not necessarily wisdom.

The people who I trust the least to give an opinion, are those who think they are most qualified. That is generally those who've "been there, done that". This is about the least unbiased opinion possible, because if they succeeded, they will be quite sure it was due to their choices, which they will now earnestly push on you. Whereas if they failed, there's a high chance they'll blame somebody else.

If you had met me, for example, when I was a young mother of just two children, I'd have told you that I knew all about parenting. At the time, I honestly thought I did. I had been so successful with my eldest two, in every way possible, that it was obvious I was doing everything right, and was now ready to share my secrets with other parents.

As most people these days only have two children, there are an awful lot of people out there who go on feeling this way forever. As luck would have it, instead of remaining an insufferable know-it-all, I went on to have more children who taught me that there was a hell of a lot of luck involved in parenting, and that I still had a lot to learn when it came to the job.

It's true that they turned out well, and I suppose I could now go around offering slightly different advice, with a bit more flexibility, but what actually happened was that I clued in to just how little I really knew. What I am an expert on, in fact, is raising MY kids. And that's all. I tend to actually avoid giving advice on parenting.

Unfortunately most people who have experienced situation X, honestly believe their version of it is the definitive version, and never stop to think that it's just one way. That's human nature, there's probably no cure for it, once a head is up an arse it's awfully hard to get it back out.

I think this may be the reason that historically we have had the idea that wisdom is something that comes with age. With many experiences, not just one. Time to make mistakes, have re-thinks, and generally collect together not only our own lifetimes, but those of others. Hopefully, the longer we live the more we realize we know very little. When advice is given with that in mind, it tends to be better.

Of course, age is no guarantee of wisdom. Some people manage to live to a great age being quite stupid. And sometimes very young people are very wise indeed.

So how do we know who to seek advice from?

It has long been my belief that the best person to look to for guidance is someone who is very good at what they do. When a friend of mine was having marital problems years ago, she sought advice from those who'd "been there", assuming she'd find support and understanding in others who had had the same problems she had. She never came to me, not once, because she thought I wouldn't understand what she was going through. I believe that was a bad idea. I believe that it would have been a good idea to talk to someone whose marriage was successful. By all means talk to those whose marriages had failed too, for comparison purposes. But why seek advice exclusively from those who had NOT succeeded?

Think about that for a moment. The example may seem an obvious one but don't we do it all the time? Even scientists do this. Think how often, for example, there has been research done on sick people to find out what aspects of their lifestyle has contributed to their poor health. When did you last see a report on research done on healthy people? Ever seen a newspaper headline saying "Research shows that healthy, happy people do the following....................."? Maybe I've just missed it.

How about nations? Who do world leaders look to when trying to fix a social problem? Do they call in Scandinavian experts? Why not? The Scandinavian countries score the highest on most aspects of social issues. Instead, leaders look to other countries with the same problems as themselves.

As I said, there is benefit to be had from examining failure. Board meetings, and military de-briefings are often deliberately based on "where did we go wrong", and there is useful data to be collected there, for sure. But if that is all we ever examine, or, if as what tends to happen, we focus on failure, we are not getting any feedback from success.

If this isn't bad enough, there is the armchair expert, aka the backseat driver. These are people who actually have NEVER had any experience in the situation at hand, one way or the other, but think they can advise anyway. Going back to parenting there's an old Scottish saying that "Old maids' bairns are the best". In other words, some of those who think they know the most about parenting, have never actually had a child.

Because I write, and most people close to me know that I do, they are really quick to give me advice on it. Some of them fall into the first category, they are unpublished writers. Others have never written anything longer than a shopping list. I listen to what they have to say but I don't take it seriously. If I need advice on writing, I'll get it from a person who has sold millions of books, actually. And here too, we see why authors are able to shrug off their critics.

But the absolute best advice about advice, in my opinion, comes from Buddhist philosophy:

"“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”"

1 comment:

  1. Oh holy crap! LOLOL, synchronicity again. Very similarly related topics! BOXALL, get the hell out of my head!