Sunday, October 30, 2011

Giving Advice

Meddling - 5 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Offering Helpful Advice
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Again, I found myself meddling in the affairs of others. All too often my intention to be supportive and generous runs amok. In the aftermath, I tell myself that I will never do that again, but I do. Actually, I wouldn't want it any other way. The line between "helpful" and meddling is so easy to cross. The only way that I could ensure that I never meddled would be to completely disavow being helpful.

Byron Katie speaks of "my business, your business, and God's business." Everything that happens in the world, or doesn't happen, is NOT my responsibility. There are more than enough things that are my responsibility. I am responsible for my thoughts, my beliefs, and my actions - and that is enough. It does not serve me to mind anyone else's business. I can only make myself unhappy by trying to second guess what anyone else thinks or does.

That's all easy enough to say in the abstract, but when the other person is our friend, spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or co-worker, it doesn't come at all naturally to remain detached. For many of us, staying in our own business requires a lifetime of self-reminders.

Often we meddle out of a sincere desire to help another, so how can we know when we have gone too far? We have overstepped our bounds whenever we cross the line from assisting others in getting what they want to believing that we know better than they what they SHOULD want.

Through painful experience, I have found five questions to ask myself to help determine whether I am providing assistance or meddling.

1. Did the other person ask for help, advice, or opinion? If the answer is No, then I am meddling. The first and greatest rule is,
Unsolicited Advice Is Always Meddling

2. Even if the person has broadcast a request for help or advice, did they ask for MY advice? When someone is drowning, they will accept a life-ring thrown by a stranger, but advice is only appreciated if the asker fully trusts and respects the advisor.

3. Do I fully respect the other person? While I can responsibly make decisions for a child or a senile person, it is pure meddling for me to believe that I know better than another competent adult how they should live their life. As an example, trying to find friends for someone who has clearly expressed a preference for solitude is meddling.

4. Is the issue a question of belief? Proselytizing is always meddling. My beliefs about religion, politics, the best natural supplements, or whatever, are just my personal beliefs, nothing more. If someone ASKS, I am happy to share about what gives my own life joy and meaning, but whenever I attempt to convert someone else's beliefs, I must be very clear that I am doing it for my own gains, and not as a service to the other.

5. Have I previously attempted to assist this person with this same issue in the past? If I have been asked again, and if I find a different way to be helpful, it's not meddling, but if I continually offer the same advice for the same problem, it crosses the line into meddling.

Compassion and generosity may well be the greatest human virtues, but it is also important to avoid letting these noble instincts cause inadvertent harm to those we want to help.


Mary Christine said...

Interesting. I think I may have subscribed to many of these beliefs and I think I may be changing my mind. For instance, in AA meetings we continually offer the same advice for the same problem... and I think we better continue to do that.

Syd said...

I like that we don't give advice in Al-Anon. It has helped me to mind my own business. The part about the senile person brings up the parents in law. We don't want to meddle but sometimes it feels as if we had best do something to help.

Lisa said...

Good advice. I often find myself listening to someone just long enough to form my own profound responses. Thanks for the reminder!