Thursday, May 12, 2011

Is Your Experience Wisdom or Judgment? (Read time: 3 min.)

Ever have a situation where someone shares a choice they've made, doesn't want advice but you can see the writing on the wall (and it doesn't look good)?

When you can see that someone you love is headed down a road leading no where, do you speak or do you listen?

How do you get over the feeling that someone you care about is making a huge mistake without interjecting unasked for advice?

I have had a few encounters this week where people told me about their life situations and I could feel the "No, don't do it!" rising up in me. Having been on the rollercoaster ride of their relationships with them, I can see where all of this leading... even if they don't. As I sat listening to their stories, fighting my desire to interject unasked for advice, the question occurred to me, "Am I supposed to share my wisdom or will that wisdom come out looking like judgment?"

In a little bit, I'll tell you what I did...

Here's the thing: people do what they choose to do. Embedded in that is the ability to choose, the right to mess up, and the strength to get back on track as many times as you stray from it. Somewhere, somehow, alot of us think we have to "save" people from themselves, as if our two cents is the thing that will cause the person to see the light. What if the light isn't supposed to be seen at this moment in time? What if this person has to go down this particular path because it's a part of his or her spiritual curriculum? Who are you or I to tell anyone what to do or not to do?

And, yet, the dilemma exists: uneasiness now or pain later. If you're a good friend or family member and you're invested in the person's happiness, you don't want to see that person fall into a trap that you can see coming miles away. How many partners, after finding out that the other partner had an affair, says "Everybody knew it but me." Nobody likes to be left in the dark. However, there's a difference between revealing wisdom and delivering judgment... and most people don't know the difference.

Wisdom can be shared but, in order to receive it, the person has to be ready to embrace what you have to say. There's no point in sharing wisdom with someone who'd rather live the lie than see the truth. You come out looking like a party pooper and nothing you say, from that point on, holds merit. No, wisdom is requested; it is not unsolicited.

Advice (and, with it, judgment) is almost always unsolicited. Sometimes people ask you for advice in one area and you take liberty to dole out opinions in five areas. At other times, a friend vents because they want you to hear and not comment and, halfway through mid-sentence, you're issuing proclamations and orders. Do you see what I'm saying?

A person's ability to take your experience for wisdom requires that they ask you to assume that role in that moment. Whenever you offer insight or advice on an issue you were not openly consulted on, you are setting yourself up for a perception based on criticism, blame and shame rather than on the true nature of your love, care and hope for this person's happiness.

So what did I do about all the issues and decisions friends relayed to me?

I kept my wisdom/advice/opinion to myself and supported them with one simple phrase, "Whatever happens next, I know you can handle it." After all, when someone wants to share with you their choice, what they're seeking isn't your advice but your support.

Offer support on principle and advice on demand.

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