Parker Palmer, a writer I read frequently, had the following to say about advice:
Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.*
How often do we give advice when simply presence and acknowledgement is required? I was thinking about this after a trip last week where I visited our historic site Belle Grove and spoke with a class of graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Virginia. We found ourselves in a very good conversation about how we should “hear, understand, and honor” diverse stories from our past and present at both places. Presence and acknowledgement are being used effectively at Belle Grove in the response to diverse perspectives and stories. At UVA, there was a back-and-forth with the students around hearing, listening, and engagement.
One of the students suggested that we change our name to the “National Trust for Historic Engagement!” I immediately warmed to the idea, as I like the thought of engaging the past with the present. Much of our traditional way of telling and interpreting history has to do with the self-interest of the interpreter, as opposed to interest in the other’s needs, much less the true story.
You may think these Monday posts fall into the “giving advice” category, which could lead you to see this entire commentary as self-contradictory. However, I appreciate the way one of my colleagues responded, when she wrote that with her passion for personal growth it was meaningful “to be invited to pause on something so grounding.” That’s exactly the intent: as an invitation at the beginning of the work week to pause and reflect. If I’m doling out advice in the future (which I’ll occasionally do), I hope I can now stop and think first about whose interest is driving the conversation.
Have a good week.
More to come…
* At the risk of giving you advice, I recommend this post by Palmer — a regular writer for Krista Tippett’s On Being project — where he recounts the story of a friend who had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and the well-meaning advice received from others.