Getting older does have its perks. Like the change in wisdom and perspective. And one of my all-time favorite and ongoing revelations is how incredibly stupid and UNHELPFUL the giving of unsolicited advice actually is—not to mention the assumptions and judgments that are usually bundled within those advice packages.
Because unsolicited advice USUALLY comes with presuppositions.
And if a listener goes straight from hearing information to advice without passing GO (aka asking any sort of clarifying questions), then the listener has already indubitably stepped into some form of judgment. You lost them somewhere along the conversation. Their brain actually segued away from being present and landed instead at some label, diagnosis, or other assumption. And assumptions are the worst.
We all know what they do, right?
In case you happened to miss out on learning this particular colloquial gem, here it is for your reading pleasure:
“Assumptions make an ass out of you and me.”
Get it? Try spelling it out if you still don’t see it: Ass-U-Me.
I proactively taught my kids this particular saying a few years ago when they all hit middle and high school age because I figured they were finally old enough to be accountable for their assumption stupidity. And now when we are at home (not in public), I’ve started a new family mandate when I see assumption occur. When any of the kids start a roaring fight because of some assumption or another, they now have to apologize to each other with these words:
“I’m sorry for assuming and for making an ass out of you and me.”
Because I actually have a visceral reaction whenever I’m talking to someone and they go straight into assumption or advice. I’ve learned over time to moderate the outward display of emotion, but I’m for sure doing an internal eye roll.
Uh huh. Uh huh. Okay, thanks. I need to get going. Good talking to ya.
I sometimes slip into advice giving and not being present too. But I’ve learned over time that it’s usually because I am either uncomfortable in the situation, extremely tired, or I’m just trying to close the conversation loop. And sometimes I do need to end a conversation. Because being an empathetic listener tends to magnetically draw me people in pain with long stories.
But in general, my heart’s intent IS to really understand and listen to people’s stories. It is to really give each person dignity through my attention and listening ear. But advice does just the opposite. Advice basically shoots a person in the heart, tells them you aren’t really listening, and tells them they aren’t smart enough to figure out a way forward themselves.
Like the wisdom that God has given the listener supersedes the wisdom that God has given them. Pulleeease. Cue eye roll.
It’s that junior holy-spirit complex all over again.
Now when someone does actually ask for feedback or advice, that’s a whole different story. In that case, the person is purposefully seeking out new information. But when someone is sharing pain or processing from their heart and the listener opens their big mouth and starts dumping out advice in the sacred space of story, I just cringe.
When someone does it to me, I automatically shut down and they have just lost the opportunity to hear any further details of my heart or story. Because advice tells me that someone isn’t listening to understand, they are listening to diagnose or to fix—neither of which I want.
In all honesty, I thrive on vulnerability and authenticity. But the harsh reality is that I can’t be vulnerable and transparent with every person in the world. It’s not wise. There are times to share and times to refrain. Sometimes sharing is like casting pearls before swine and God warns us:
Not all people are safe.
God tells us the heart is sacred, that out of it flows the wellsprings of life. So even though I try to be authentically me everywhere that I go, the depths of my heart are NOT for common use and they should be shared with those who have earned the trust and the access.
I learned this the hard way through sharing pain and story with the wrong people, but I wouldn’t change my experience. Because it was only through risking vulnerability that I could find out how to find the right people to begin with.
Because the right people DO exist. There are those who CAN be trusted with pain, those that know how to create an atmosphere of safety and trust for vulnerability and story to flow. An atmosphere where judgment and advice are absent.
I’ve met a TON of people that are emotionally disconnected (Christians included) and sadly these people aren’t usually safe for entrusting with deep pain or sacred story. And then I’ve met a plethora of others that just haven’t learned the skill of listening through the lens of curiosity yet rather than through the lens of diagnosis.
Assumptions are stupid.
Advice is counterproductive to connection.
Judgment is stepping into God’s shoes.
But giving someone a listening ear and our undistracted attention?
That’s healing. That’s holy. That’s a gift.