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People give advice too much.
Way too many people think they know way too many things about the world and don’t hesitate from expounding their dime store wisdom to any passerby with an open earhole. Raving rebels and righteous ramblers alike.
That’s how the world has always been how it’ll most likely continue to be. The hard part of navigating life and steering yourself through the hazards of misappropriated guidance is figuring out what advice to take, which to ignore, and what, if any, directions you’d be able to honestly and meaningfully impart yourself.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to give advice to someone if you think you could help them out. It feels great to help people, but one the struggles I see so often in hearing other people give advice or in myself when trying to relate my own experiences, is that unless you’re speaking to them in the sort of operational language they understand, they’re not going to have a very easy time understanding what you’re trying to tell them.
This can happen the most when someone has done the work to elevate themselves out of their own toxic habits and is trying to impart the knowledge of how they accomplished this to someone who hasn’t had the same experience.
Just listen to rich and famous people try to give advice to the poor and anonymous people craving their guidance. Unless the person speaking has been in the exact situation as the disenfranchised group they’re addressing and can therefore more easily make a meaningful connection with them, you’ll most likely hear a lot of platitudes and bumper sticker advice in the vein of, “Never give up,” “Be yourself,” “If put your mind to it, you can do anything,” “Reach for the stars,” or some other deluded horseshit that has no bearing on the realities of everyday people. Without a detailed explanation of what these phrases truly mean and how exactly they can relate to a regular person’s specific life, you’re not going to have a very easy time telling them what they should do to make positive changes for themselves. Or at least, not an easy time getting them to take it to heart.
The Eagle and the Mouse
I was talking to a friend the other day about the idea of forgiveness. Without getting into specifics, she told me that it’s hard, if not impossible, for her to forgive people. That if you hurt her, she was hurt, and there was no forgiving that. She knew how it sounded, but that to her, it had always felt like a weakness or like some kind of favor that you were doing for the person that hurt you. To forgive them was to say that their actions were acceptable because you were letting them get away with treating you like garbage.
I understood was she meant and could see that looking at it from that angle, it made sense to think of forgiveness in that way, but I wasn’t inclined to agree with the perspective.
After the initial confusion at the phrase “I don’t forgive people”, I honestly couldn’t help but feel sad. How could you say that you don’t use one of the most effective emotional tools that people have at their disposal? It’s the one thing we have that allows us to let go of emotional baggage and empty out the old reserves of stale anger and seething resentment. To me, forgiveness was the release valve sticking out from the body of our intuition that gave us a means of releasing the buildup of pressure that accumulates over time. As we become more aware of ourselves and the nature of others who intentionally or otherwise wrong you, the more easily we’re able to twist that spicket and simply let it go.
To me, that seemed like an easy enough concept to wrap your head around, and she agreed. She understood exactly what I meant and completely saw the utility in seeing things in that way. Yet, she still couldn’t quite grasp how to do it.
She told me of a time as a little girl when she was at a store looking at a nice bracelet. One of the employees saw her admiring the jewelry and jokingly said to her, “Oh, I think that’s out of your budget.” My friend said that she was too young to know what budget meant, or what she was even talking about. She knew the lady had said words and understood that those words related to the situation in some way, but she didn’t understand what they meant. She said she felt the same when I spoke of forgiveness to her, that she knew the words sounded important and could help her, but she couldn’t wrap her head around what they really meant. It was like a blurry image of which she could see the shape but couldn’t make out the details.
As we talked more, we stumbled on an analogy that prompted cause for this very article. Thus, the eagle and the mouse. Although, for the purposes of avoiding the dynamic of predator and prey, or moving forward under the assumption that I’m attributing the confident majesty of a soaring eagle onto myself as if I’ve somehow mastered this introspective terrain in some way, let’s use the term bird instead. Personally, I’d say I’m more like a wannabe Icarus using a pile of dead leaves and Elmer’s glue to flap my way to freedom than I am a naturally gifted cloud-cutter, but I digress.
We came to see the situation as if I was a bird trying to give directions to a field mouse. As if I was freely flying around far above the little mouse trying to shout directions to help it navigate its way across the field. The mouse can only see what’s directly in front of it. It thinks it knows which direction will be best to take because they are the one experiencing it, after all. Why wouldn’t they know what’s best when they are the one out there in the thick of it, stealthily covering ground in the only way they know how?
The thing is, the bird can see everything. The entire landscape stretches before them, treasures, traps, and all. The bird can see the direction the mouse is running and knows that if it were to keep going, it’s inevitable it’s going to run into a cat on the prowl. It can see the mousetraps and pitfalls, it knows which path will be best for the mouse to take, which ones will lead to its demise, and all it can do is yell its advice from high above the life and death situation.
The bird yells that the mouse should turn right, turn left, go straight and use this or that rock as a good vantage point to gain some perspective. The mouse listens and might even take some of the advice, but from the mouse’s perspective, the routes seem silly and tedious, dangerous even. The mouse gets frustrated that it has to trust some bird blindly in the hopes that it knows what it’s talking about. Sometimes the mouse does the opposite of what the bird says out of spite. Other times, the wind is too strong and the mouse can’t even make out the words the bird is saying, half of them getting lost in the breezes of daily life.
Let’s say, for the sake of this analogy, that there’s a little mouse catapult at the end of the field that will launch the mouse over the last ravine and into the safety of “Mouse Island”, where the toughest and most cunning mice live in evolved harmony and comfort knowing that made it out of the field trials alive.
The bird yells the directions over and over, trying to guide the mouse towards this final redemptive tool. It yells and yells, but the mouse doesn’t know what a catapult is. It’s never even heard the word catapult before. Cata-what? Why are you trying to lead me towards the cat?? I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you!
If you haven’t pick up on it by now, I’ll cut this long-winded analogy short. Trade the word catapult for forgiveness and you’ve got a clear parallel for the advice I was trying to give my friend. If forgiveness meant weakness to her, she was only hearing me yelling for her to go towards the Cat! Instead of not only not hearing the word catapult, but not understanding what it even means. She just couldn’t fully take the advice because she didn’t have the perspective I had.
You see, this happens in countless examples and variations across every sort of advice and dynamic imaginable.
The reason your words fall on deaf ears to some people isn’t that you don’t know what you’re saying, or that the person you’re talking to is too closed off or unintelligent in some way, it’s that there’s a good chance you two are just communicating from completely different vantage points. You can do your best to try and articulate direction with the best of intentions, but from the perspective of the person you’re talking to, they might not even be able to conceive of what you’re talking about, let alone use the advice in any meaningful way.
If you’re trying to give advice to someone, you can’t always just yell directions at them from your heightened point of view. If you even have that elevated privilege of being able to fully see the landscape, do your best to guide people in the right direction if you can, if they can truly hear and trust you, but you don’t see your advice being taken properly, or you see them straying from the path and into more dangerous terrain, sometimes the best thing we can do is fly down to the ground and speak to them directly from their point of view. If they think you can fully understand where they’re coming from and can see their predicaments from a base-level perspective, they’ll be much more willing to trust your advice the next time you’re shouting it from the clouds.
To be clear, let’s not get bogged down with the semantics and details of where this analogy breaks down and start asking if some people are somehow better than others because they’re birds and others are just flightless mice, or if the mice somehow turn into birds at some point, or that the birds are just analogies for people will big egos who think they’ve got it all figured out, that’s not the point. It’s just a silly metaphor to help illustrate perspective, don’t read too far into it.
Anyways, it’s about awareness. Awareness that you might be speaking from a perspective not fully understood by who you’re talking to. Both sides need to see this and both sides need to take ownership of themselves and comes to terms with the fact that advice and direction is based on trust and a willingness to change. It’s about taking a risk when you’re not sure of your choices but still giving yourself the freedom to make those mistakes.
Trust the people with your best intentions at heart. Don’t think that someone with a different perspective can’t possibly know what you’re going through because there’s a good chance they’ve already gone through it and know the easiest path out.
Keep searching and keep trying new routes through the overgrown field of life.
You might not yet understand what a catapult is, but I think when you see it, you’ll know.