You might as well try talking sense to a cat



If I follow my own counsel, I have to take responsibility for the consequences. If I follow other people’s counsel, I have to take responsibility for the consequences. This alone prejudices me in favor of following my own counsel.

If I follow my own counsel, I discover my mistakes sooner. If I go to a mentor or take a poll of my friends and behave as they advise, and doing so turns out to be a mistake, it won’t be my mistake, and all that I am sure to learn from it is that they were wrong.

No one can know for sure what’s right for himself much less for me. If I tell you I’m off to teach peace to the Islamic State, and you tell me it’s a bad idea, how do you know it’s a bad idea? After all, I might succeed. At the very least, it could turn out that if I stayed in Oregon, I’d fall asleep while driving and run head-on into a busload of school children, killing them all. No matter how sure we are that something is a mistake, none of us can see the future. I remember a time when I ignored my sister’s advice and later regretted it, but I wouldn’t go back and do things differently because I don’t know but what the right decision might not have led to a worse outcome.

If you feel the need to give advice, it’s better to avoid anger and condescension, because anger and condescension distracts from your argument and causes me to wonder if you’re acting out of a private agenda that has nothing to do with my welfare. At the very least, if it turns out that you were right, you will have made it hard for me to come to you for support because I will anticipate you thinking, “See there, I told you so. Maybe you’ll listen to me next time.”

Sometimes, a person might do as someone else advises because it seems to make sense, but other times, the reason might simply be a lack of self-confidence. Since no one can build self-confidence by ignoring his own best thinking in favor of the best thinking of someone else, advice-givers aren’t necessarily being helpful even when they’re right.

I think it’s nearly always better to ask questions than to provide answers. By asking questions, you’re encouraging me to find my own truth and my own path. By providing answers, you’re offering that which you think your truth and your path would be if you were me, only you
’re not me. You’re a million miles from being me.
 
I have observed that advice is often obvious, left-brain, superficial, and insulting. For instance, if I say that I’m unable to stop grieving the death of my father, and someone says, “You just need to learn to accept that which you can’t change,” he’s implying that I’m such a moron that I never would have thought of this on my own. He’s also implying that he is my superior in that his own life is ruled by logic rather than by emotional need and desire, although I’ve never observed this to be the case.

If I have a problem, I will have spent many hours pondering solutions that the advice giver thinks of off the top of her head. I invariably  know more about why I have the problem and what needs to be done done about it than those who would advise me.

Giving advice to me is hardly more useful than giving advice to a cat because I’ve spent my adult life ignoring what other people thought was perfectly good sense. I’ll give three examples. When I grew a beard during the summer of 1976, the principal at the school where I was teaching assumed I did it for the bicentennial and ordered me to shave before school started. I refused despite growing threats from the administration and the combined wisdom of everyone I knew. Years later, I joined the ACLU and American Atheists, despite the fact that all of my Mississippi friends and neighbors thought that these organizations represented everything that was wrong with America. Every time I’m called to jury duty (eight times in three states), I refuse to take the juror’s oath because it contains the word God. Nearly everyone I ever talked to about this said that I was making a big deal out of nothing.

What might look like a mistake to an onlooker might conform to a guiding vision that is invisible to him and, perhaps, only vaguely known to myself. I am not always able to defend my path to the satisfaction of my challengers, but I don’t take this to mean that I’m in error. I’m more likely to conclude that my would-be advisers are acting out of ignorance, whether of the facts of the matter or of my needs and values.

A decision isn’t necessarily wrong because it isn’t as good as an alternative decision or because it fails to succeed; rather it’s wrong when it originates out of base motives.

I think it might be possible that most people don’t share as deeply as I do on their blogs because when you share deeply, many people assume  you’re weak, vulnerable, and looking for advice. If I were weak and vulnerable, I wouldn’t have the guts to share as I do, and while I’m willing to consider advice, I seldom take it. 


One good thing I can say about advice is that those who give it are at least paying attention. Whether they are paying attention deeply is another matter, but they are paying attention, and I think that in nearly every case, they really do want the best for me.

28 comments:

Kerry said...

I've never for a moment thought of you as weak, or seeking advice. That's what I like about your blog!
So, a question: if I refuse to take the juror's oath, am I taken off jury duty?

Elephant's Child said...

Speaking for myself (and probably for lots and lots of others) you are right. I do want the best for you - whatever that might be.

PhilipH said...

Well, if you ask my advice ...

or, if you want my opinion ...

or, if I were you, I suggest that ...

This isn't helping is it Snowy. I know what you mean and I know you always mean what you say.

Hope you're doing as well as possible.

Have you visited poor Michelle, 'All Consuming' lately?

I'd no idea how this gorgeous lady was suffering. Very sad and hope she has some improvement soon. Thanks for guiding me to her blog.

All Consuming said...

I do love who you are and how you think dear. X (more than I would a cat).

Stephen Hayes said...

I try not to give advice unless I'm pressed to do so. Most people already know the answers to what's troubling them but they don't want to take the responsibility for that knowledge.

All Consuming said...

Thank you Philip, I'm very glad of the introduction too! *beams*

Snowbrush said...

"if I refuse to take the juror's oath, am I taken off jury duty?”

No, you’re given an alternative oath, but prosecuting attorneys tend to be weirded-out by such refusals because they have the idea that those who make them are more likely to be in sympathy with the defendant. They therefore ask you a lot of questions about your reasoning. Each lawyer can reject a certain number of jurors by what’s called a preemptory challenge, which just means they can refuse to seat you without giving a reason. I’ve had this happen to me when I refused to take the oath. I’ve also attracted negative attention by telling the judge that, in reaching a verdict, I would refuse to follow his instructions if they violated my conscience. Few jurors are going to say that to a judge—or even consider it a possibility that they might not follow his instructions--but it sometimes works out that way once they get into the jury room. When enough jurors do it, it’s usually called “jury nullification” because it results in someone who is obviously guilty being found innocent. For example, if a woman shotgunned her sleeping husband because she thought he was going to kill her someday, it probably wouldn’t count as self-defense because there was no imminent threat, yet jurors might conceivably bring in an innocent verdict upon hearing convincing evidence that he was a very violent man. I’ve never wanted to avoid jury duty because it’s usually interesting, but I should think it would be easy to be dismissed if you were willing to say something stupid when the lawyers questioned you—they question everyone to some extent. For example, when you’re asked if you think you would be able to bring in a fair verdict, you could just say that you don’t think innocent people are ever put on trial.

"Have you visited poor Michelle, 'All Consuming' lately? I'd no idea how this gorgeous lady was suffering.”

I figure that when things get bad, she just goes over the mirror and thinks about how hot she looks, and feels all good again. By contrast, I go over to the mirror and wonder how the hell I got to looking so old so fast, and this makes me feel even worse than I already did.

"I do love who you are and how you think dear. X (more than I would a cat).”

Cats are better looking, so if you prefer me to a cat, it can only mean that you’re one of those rare people who are able to see below the surface and realize that I have prettier kidneys. Sometimes, when I’m feeling pissy because Brewsky is better looking than I, I remind myself that he probably wouldn’t look worth a damn if he didn’t have all that fur.

"I try not to give advice unless I'm pressed to do so.”

It’s different when one is asked.

"Most people already know the answers to what's troubling them but they don't want to take the responsibility for that knowledge.”

I can but say that I’m often in the dark about what is the best thing to do.

Paula Kaye said...

Sometimes I have a terrible habit of offering my advice when I am not asked for it. Maybe it is the mother in me! But I would never assume that you were weak and vulnerable. I agree with you that to share the way you do on your blog you cannot be weak in any way.I am happy that you are so open and honest. And that you dig so deep. It makes me think outside of "my" box!

kylie said...

a few months ago my son was asking what i thought about him moving to the other side of the country. i gave him a whole lot of perspectives and told him i dont want to see him go but i wouldnt hold him back. The very next day i realised i should have asked him about his thoughts.

you are so right, most people know what is right for them

Kerry said...

Aha. Thank you for your response. I've served on juries 3 or no, 4 times, mostly in Alabama. It was very interesting. I took that oath, but wondered what would happen if I refused. Once when I was questioned (over a child abuse case) I did indeed tell the attorney I would have trouble with finding the accused innocent, and they sent me packing. As they should.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I don't think of you as a weak or as seeking advice. I don't share a lot of deeply personal stuff on my blog because I reserve that for those people who know me best.

Charles Gramlich said...

I try not to give advice about "living." Who is to say I know enough. I only give advice about specific tasks, such as on writing and studying to my students.

lotta joy said...

I have no idea why the square, yellow plates I had in the 70s popped into my mind while reading your post, but here it is: My girlfriend made a sarcastic remark about them and the next day I threw them out and bought "acceptable" round plates. The next time I was at her house, she proudly brought forth HER new square plates - having completely forgotten about dissing mine.

This has followed me for 40 years, placing another person's opinions as being correct versus mine that are always in error.

In hindsight, I see a young woman who - by looks, or opinion, needed to take a backseat to no one. But in present day, there are two women I know who still cause me feelings of inferiority.

At least you don't allow another person's thoughts to cause you to change your mind and use theirs.

But in your own way, you put yourself in the hot seat by wanting acceptance by others as if their opinion does count!

You've got some fantastic folks here who accept you, love you, and think you're the bee's knees.

Do you believe "Ah yes. But if you knew me in REAL life, you might feel differently." We all do that, sweetie. But even in "real" life, no one truly "knows" us.

Linda said...

Snow,
In real life, I have always had people ask my advice about things. I am very persuasive when I tell people to ignore the insults or judgments others like to heap on others. I give them good comebacks or good defenses/arguments to hold their own when someone tries to make them think they are wrong. I was so good at helping people see their worth in the face of criticism that to a person, each wanted me to get a degree that involved counseling others. I had had enough of talking people through trauma and pain, that I refused.

There are instances where people only like you if you listen to their advice even though they cannot think their way out of a paper bag. They just need someone to look up to them and someone to control.

I think you are beautiful on the inside, so what you look like matters little. As the homely sibling in the family, I have seen the attention and approval unfairly heaped on the blondes I grew up with. But, they are ugly on the inside, spiteful, and manipulative. I have dated gorgeous men who were not very smart or thoughtful and friends wondered why I did not continue dating them. My mental life has to be enriched in some way.

In giving advice in real life, I often start with, "Have you ever considered...."

possum said...

Speaking of jury duty, there are a number of places where you cannot serve in office either IF you will not swear on a Bible.
I took my oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita. No one realized it was Hindu and I was Buddhist. LOL! I just happened to have a copy in the car. It worked.
Sorry, just had to share that.
Next time the book I used was all in Sanskrit. That worked, too.

All Consuming said...

You are far better looking than a cat. End of. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you're quite the silver fox sir *winks and hides from Peggy*.

Have a Christmas poem as an extra pressie;


Snowball

By Shel Silverstein.

I made myself a snowball,
As perfect as could be,
I thought I'd keep it as a pet,
And let it sleep with me.

I made it some pajamas,
And a pillow for its head,
Then last night it ran away,
But first - it wet the bed!


Michelle x

northierthanthou said...

Sometimes folks follow advice precisely because they do hope it will absolve them of their own responsibility. Seen that game more than a few times.

Snowbrush said...

"I agree with you that to share the way you do on your blog you cannot be weak in any way.”

I wouldn’t go that far! I just meant that I don’t tend to take comments personally, even when they’re meant personally. Blogging has helped me in this way because it’s so clear that people don’t agree among themselves as to the merit, or the lack thereof, of anything I think or do. It’s all opinion—there being no absolute standard by which I can be judged--and I can take those opinions and try to learn from them, but without becoming all that distressed by them. I say “all that,” because I’m not immune to hurt; it just takes a lot to hurt me, at least in the blogosphere, although I’m usually able to take what I’ve learned here and carry it over into my face-to-face life.

"The very next day i realised i should have asked him about his thoughts.”

Well, what he’s proposing weighs on you too, and that makes it hard to react objectively. I saw a program on TV about Iranian immigrants to America who were forced to flee upon the fall of the shah. These people consider it unthinkable that members of a family would, in ordinary circumstances, move far away. Most Americans value job over family, so they don’t hesitate to take their children and sever their family connections (except, perhaps, for a few days a year) and move to the other side of this vast land. I prefer the Iranian way, there being nothing more sad to me than my lack of family. What your son does might come down to what his cultural values are about the importance of family. It’s his decision for him, but it’s also his decision for you.

"Once when I was questioned (over a child abuse case) I did indeed tell the attorney I would have trouble with finding the accused innocent”

Bingo. As you learned, that’s all you need say. Peggy used to swear that she would never even report to jury duty, and this worried me considerably, so I told her that, if she was that determined to avoid service, it’s always possible to get thrown off a jury, and her feelings about the judicial system would guarantee that she would get thrown off.

"I don't share a lot of deeply personal stuff on my blog because I reserve that for those people who know me best.”

With very few exceptions, the people I know face-to-face don’t care to know me deeply. I also find that conversation is deeply inferior to writing when it comes to exploring thoughts and feelings because it doesn’t allow time for reflection or for the review of what has already been said. Neither does it leave a record that can later be reviewed, and, unlike writing, it’s not an art form, at least not an art form that I have the least talent for.

"I only give advice about specific tasks, such as on writing and studying to my students.”

I would agree, but the line blurs for me. Right after writing this post, I told a couple that I think they need to be on anti-depressants, so was this specific advice, or was it advice about living?

Snowbrush said...

"But in your own way, you put yourself in the hot seat by wanting acceptance by others as if their opinion does count!”

If I understand you correctly, you see me as desperate for approval among the people of this church. I think that all normal people want approval in the sense of acceptance, but wanting to be a member of a group is like wanting to be, or to remain, someone’s friend in that we must ever be careful to avoid alienating the group—or the person—unnecessarily. Although the person or group might not cause you to change your values, you won’t be able to achieve closeness if they dislike you. That’s why, with this church—as with every friend I’ve ever had--I’ve felt that I had to find my way perspicaciously. On the one hand, I didn’t want to alienate people without good reason, but on the other I didn’t want to achieve acceptance by misrepresenting myself. This isn’t an easy thing, and I have little talent for it. I just know that in the sphere of human relationships, it’s almost never wise go around blurting out one’s thoughts and feelings without regard for how they affect other people. This is why those who boast about always saying exactly what they think are seen as insufferable by pretty much everyone, and to what purpose? So they can compliment themselves on their strength? What strength?

"In giving advice in real life, I often start with, "Have you ever considered…."

You remind me of Benjamin Franklin who had to go from presenting his opinions as if they were god’s own thoughts to qualifying them so he wouldn't alienate people.

"Speaking of jury duty, there are a number of places where you cannot serve in office either IF you will not swear on a Bible.”

Such laws are illegal, so they don’t stand up when challenged in court.

"Have a Christmas poem as an extra pressie”

Thank you. I know him fairly well as a writer for Dr. Hook.

"Sometimes folks follow advice precisely because they do hope it will absolve them of their own responsibility.”

I guess, but all that comes to mind is, “I didn’t want to kill all those Jews, but they told me to." That said, I've repeatedly seen people back down from what they thought was right because they preferred peace at almost any price.

The Blog Fodder said...

Hi, Snow. Just checking in. Wishing you all the best in this holiday season. Advice from me is worth what it costs you...$750 USD per day ;>)

Snowbrush said...

"Advice from me is worth what it costs you...$750 USD per day ;>)"

Why, thank you, Fodder. I'll start setting-up an automatic transfer because I'm not sure I trust the Ukrainian mail service right now. All I will need is your banking information.

mohave rat said...

I was slightly overwhelmed for awhile, but I'm back! I probably won't comment much since I have no social skills. Most of what I say is taken wrong so it's better to remain silent.

Snowbrush said...

"I probably won't comment much since I have no social skills."

You sound low, my friend, and I wish I had something for it.

"Most of what I say is taken wrong so it's better to remain silent."

I don't know what to make of it. Are you sure that people aren't sometimes seeing more than you would like for them to see?

Linda said...

I do think that my thoughts are as though from God, however, people need to learn to think from me instead of just swallowing every word I say. If you teach a person to learn to think through one situation, that type of thinking carries over into the next situation. The result is a strengthening of their brain muscles. They can also extrapolate from one situation to the next. I am so sleepy that none of this seems real or correct. Am I babbling?

Ginnie said...

Interesting blog ... it's my first time visiting. I too started my blog in 2006 and it's been (and is) a fun journey. Thanks for your comment.
As to this entry of yours I can only say that I have (finally) learned never to GIVE advice ... but I will share how a similar situation has worked for me and sometimes that has helped others.

kj said...

i'm a counselor and it's easy to give advice and i do. but when i left my practice last june i asked my clients to anonymously write down what if anything they had most benefited from our relationship.

i was touched (and thrilled) that almost everyone said, in his/her own way, "You believed in me so much I started believing in myself."

do you think i give you advice, snow?

i know you well enough by now to know how much you value and encourage intelligent discourse. that's the best of your blog.

this: "when you share deeply, many people assume you’re weak, vulnerable, and looking for advice. "

i don't agree. i find that when some one shares authentically, most people sense quickly the strength of that.

happy new year, snow
love
kj

Snowbrush said...

"i was touched (and thrilled) that almost everyone said, in his/her own way, 'You believed in me so much I started believing in myself.' do you think i give you advice, snow?"

In regard to church, I don't think you give me advice so much as a warning, and I take the repetition of your warning to indicate that you don’t believe I’m running my life all that well. To be specific, my impression regarding church is that you think I've taken a wrong track, and you’re intent on persuading me to take some other track, although you don't attempt to tell me what it would be. You’re passionate in your beliefs as can be seen by your comments to my next two posts. You also seem to have great confidence that your beliefs are right. Often, I do as well, but sometimes it takes me years to decide what I believe (gay marriage was the toughest challenge I ever faced in this regard, but I finally decided that I was firmly of it), whereas Peggy, for example, is just the opposite. I really don’t know how you go about formulating your beliefs, but I would like to. Perhaps, it would allow us to approach your feelings about my next two posts indirectly rather than discussing the issues themselves.

"i know you well enough by now to know how much you value and encourage intelligent discourse. that's the best of your blog.”

Thank you.

Love,
Snow

Snowbrush said...

KJ, I should all that you remind me ever so much of my sister. She became so frustrated with me for not embracing her views about religion that she stopped writing. I hope, given your thoughts about my next post, that you won't do the same because it's clear that we'll never come together about the issue.