Unsolicited Advice - For My Benefit or Yours?
I paused and stammered, “Do you want a response at all?”
One of my friends had just finished sharing where she was at.
“No”, she said, “we can just switch topics and focus on you now, thanks for listening.”
“I’m happy to respond, I’m just not sure what would be appropriate” I continued.
I was stumbling a little because I noticed I wanted to offer her a reflection of what I was seeing but didn’t want her to feel judged or like I was giving advice.
“No, I’m good”, she reiterated with finality, “thanks.”
I had to consciously let go of wanting her to see what I saw, a reflection that I deemed would be, “for her benefit.”
Have you been on either side of this equation?
Someone shares how they’re feeling with any kind of negative slant and the person listening jumps to fix / save / rescue / help / change / problem-solve / make better.
If she didn’t want to hear my response, then who would I really have been benefiting?
Me, not her.
I would have been responding more for me than for her.
Even with the best of intentions, and more often than we might realize, we respond unconsciously with unsolicited advice assuming we know what’s best for others.
It’s common to want to help others as a way of avoiding our own feelings of helplessness.
We see someone suffering and we automatically feel like we have to do something about it.
Like water on rock, these unconscious responses can erode our sense of connection and well-being in relationship leaving each other feeling misunderstood, broken or alone.
Our default response is to help people feel better. That’s amazing.
But what if we don’t need to feel better?
What if it’s simpler than we thought...
What if we just allow ourselves to be as we are together, feeling however we feel?
That hands-off approach takes some getting used to if, like me, you’re used to gaining significance by taking responsibility for another person’s experience.
Byron Katie said,
“There are only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s. Whose business is it if an earthquake happens? God’s business. Whose business is it if your neighbour down the street has an ugly lawn? Your neighbour’s business. Whose business is it if you are angry at your neighbour down the street because he has an ugly lawn? Your business. Life is simple—it is internal. Staying in my own business is a full time job."
The greatest gift we can offer each other is not a solution but our attention and presence.
As Thich Naht Hahn puts it,
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
Our acceptance of each other as we are, creates space for our souls to breathe.
I’m also reminded of a quote by Adyashanti,
“Until the whole world is free to agree with you or disagree with you, until you have given the freedom to everyone to like you or not like you, to love you or hate you, to see things as you see them or to see things differently—until you have given the whole world its freedom—you'll never have your freedom.”
In other words, when we let go of the need to control and change people, events and circumstances, the by-product is inner peace and freedom because we’re actually in acceptance of what is.
Freedom isn’t “out there”, it’s an inner experience that results from both energetic and verbal boundaries; where we take responsibility for what is ours and stay out of other people’s business.
That doesn’t mean we can’t help and support others. It simply means it is not our burden or heroic task to save everyone around us.
When we let go, we simultaneously empower those who we used to save to see that they can handle whatever it is they're going through.
In this way, we stop unconsciously engaging with others as victims and start seeing them as creators.