Advice About Advice

"Wise men don't need advice. Fools won't take it." Benjamin Franklin

“Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it.”
Benjamin Franklin

I posted last week’s story knowing I might hear back about being estranged from my mom.

Sure enough, that evening I received an email from a stranger. She told me that I’ve wasted enough time and I need to go to Mom.

My emailer was well meaning, I’m sure – just like any one of us who thinks we know better what actions someone else needs to take. I know because I used to be one of those well-meaning people.

Well-meaning, but not wise and maybe not even safe.

If I had received such a message during one of my depressed times, when getting out of bed didn’t hold much appeal, I may not have lived to read it twice. Not that it would have been my emailer’s fault, but why chance advising others what to do when it’s seldom beneficial, and it might be downright dangerous.

I’ve never benefited from someone telling me to return to a painful relationship when I’m finally trying to take care of myself.

I’ve never benefited from someone insinuating I’m not doing God’s will when I’m detaching from others.

I’ve never benefited from someone making a point about prayer while telling me how God healed their relationships, all the while, even from my knees, mine look like a warzone.

No, instructions like these haven’t helped, but I’ve graciously listened and understood that people intend their advice to be helpful, not harmful.

Nevertheless, these sorts of statements sometimes do harm, so I’m writing what I’ve figured out from being sandwiched between giving unsolicited advice and being given it.

I’ve learned …

  • To ask myself, “Did they ask for my advice?” If not, don’t give it.
  • To ask others when they’re talking about a problem, “Do you want sympathy or suggestions?” If they say sympathy, don’t give them suggestions. If they say suggestions, give them both.
  • To accept that we don’t know what actions need to be taken by others. Trust me on this one – we really, really, really do not know. For years, I thought I had others’ answers, I thought I knew what would improve their lives, I thought I knew what was best for them to do, but I didn’t and I don’t and I never will. I’m wiser for knowing I don’t know.

If you’re still compelled to give unsolicited advice after reading this, here’s my advice to you – be bold and forthright and make the advice so ridiculous that the recipient either takes it or takes off, like what I received from my 70-year-old friend and mentor. She denied ever telling me this, but I reassured her that God spoke through her when she said this about a friendship I knew I shouldn’t be in, but didn’t want to let go of, “You just as well get a gun and shoot yourself if you’re going to stay in that relationship.”

Now, my friends, that’s the kind of bold, forthright, ridiculous guidance I can wrap my head and heart around, although I first considered never speaking to my friend again.

I’d like to hear what you think about advice.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I also appreciate Gilbert K. Chesterton’s advice about advice, “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”


26 responses »

  1. I try not to give advice unless 1) the Holy Spirit is leading me. 2) the person with the problem wants my opinion & 3) I have the full story. I know I don’t want to be told how I should handle something or what I should say. Many times my husband will tell me what I should do in a situation when really all I need is for him to listen.

    • Good guidelines to follow. Thanks.

      I’m with you, not crazy about being told what to do, and men do that often because they’re fixers. Maybe we could tattoo on our foreheads “No advice. Listen.” Could work until they give us advice about the tattoo. 🙂

  2. Love your writing, you’re such an inspiring maverick! This gives credence to your being “Write where you’re supposed to be,” at ease with your destiny and willing to put yourself on the line, without regret. That is such a challenge for many of us. Thank you for meeting that challenge, and the advice. By the way, a short story about an advice quote from a”church bond sales representative”who told the church in 1968 about their bond program: “Free advice is worth what you pay for it”

    • Hahaha, Joel. I got a kick out of your free advice story. Read it last night and laughed out loud. Read it again a few minutes ago and it was just as funny the second time around.

      I’m grateful for your encouragement. I especially like “… at ease with your destiny and willing to put yourself on the line, without regret.” You put into words what I want. Thank you. 🙂

  3. Kim, this is wonderful ‘advice’ (sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

    I have become better over the years at not giving advice. I seem to have a ‘please tell me all your problems’ sign over my head, so I’ve had plenty of practice! And the more I hear people’s stories, the more I know that I don’t know the answers, just like you said.

    And I particularly agree with you about advice given with what people think God would want a person to do – surely that’s God business, and not ours? I barely know what I think, let alone what God thinks about a situation!

    I agree too, that most often, but not always, the advice is well intentioned but that does little to alleviate the hurt it can cause.

    I’m glad you were able to stand back from this particular advice and see it for what it is and leave it there. And I know that you will know what to do with respects to your relationship with your mum, without anyone having to give you any advice at all. God will show you when, if or how to do whatever needs doing xo

    • Susannah, thank you over and over. I want to comment on every one of your sentences. Instead, I’ll just say “Ditto.”

      I’m relieved we’re not in the business of mind reading, especially for God. That’s way over my head (sorry, couldn’t help myself either 🙂 ). Glad to know it’s over yours too. I’m in good company.

      I appreciate what you said about standing back from the advice and leaving it there. I’ve learned to detach from what others say because I’d be overwhelmed if I didn’t. Apparently, being estranged from a parent is an emotional trigger for many. I get plenty of advice. Thank you for knowing I’ll know what to do. I tell myself that too, but it’s nice to also hear it from you.

      Love and gratitude for you, my friend ~

  4. Only you know what has lead to your estrangement from your mother and you need to respect your survival instinct. I too have had to make the decision to have no contact with my mother. I call her by her first name and have since I was in 4th grade. My symbolic way of denying her the place as mother.

    She has untreated borderline personality disorder which makes her unavailable, self-centered, hateful and manipulative. She destroyed my self-esteem, my childhood and the majority of my life. I, too, have been in and out of treatment for depression and I also have a really serious suicide attempt in my past (2006).

    Currently I am on medical disability for depression and researching a variety of treatment options. I’m in my mid-fifties and searching for a reason to live. The more we examine the past the more tenuous my hold on life becomes.

    But, I digress. If you have reason enough to put distance between you and your mother you need to respect your instincts. Do not be swayed by well meaning friends who are misguided in thinking that everyone walks the same path and warn you of regrets you will have should you not reconnect with your mother. Listen to your inner voice. Respect your decisions.

    I have made peace with my decision with zero contact with her. I will not be attending her funeral, when she passes, because I feel that would be totally hypercritical.

    Every individual walks a different path. Follow your heart.


    • Paula, when I got my MA in counseling (I don’t work in the field, but I do have my degree), I did an extensive paper on borderline personalities. Very difficult disorder when it comes to having relationships. I can only imagine all you’ve been through. I’m so sorry.

      However, I’m grateful you felt comfortable sharing here. I hope in your search, you find many reasons to live. My children kept me alive until I felt like living for myself. Although I think I’m more stable than at any other time in my life, seeing Mom might be disconcerting and I wouldn’t take that chance. I appreciate your understanding and your comforting words.

      I hope you’ll stop by again. Take good care!

  5. Kim, thanks for sharing. It’s like you read my heart. I am a “want to fix” person and I am trying not to be. I confess that it is a lack of trust in God that He is going to fix it or, perhaps, not willing to wait on Him.

    • Ooooh, an enlightened perspective, Mary Sue. “A lack of trust in God … ” That’s exactly what it is for me. I’m not so impatient as I am scared that God has a different and less appealing plan than what I hoped for. I’m not sure why because his plans are always better.

    • Thanks, Dave. Why, at the mention of bullet points, did something about shooting ’em up and “bang bang” (something shared between you and Beth) pop into my head? Wish I could remember in which of yours posts you mentioned this. Any idea?

      I appreciate your advice. I’m going to try. You too.

      • Perhaps it was Annie Oakley’s click-click BANG! from Smokey Lies and Smoking Guns. You gotta watch Beth. She’s got an itchy trigger finger.

  6. I don’t know how I missed this post. My daughter, Katie Beth asked me, “Hey did you read Kim Henson’s blog post?” and I was all “Which one? When?” So she told me all about it — how profound you were, how on-target … and here I am.
    You, my friend, are a wise woman. It’s one of the reasons I like to hang with you.

    • I hope you know I feel the same way about you, Beth. I appreciate you and your willingness to share the hard stuff. I’ve already gleaned so much from our friendship. And I’m delighted to have Katie Beth as a friend/reader too. Y’all are such encouragers. Thank you.

  7. From Facebook –

    Dolores Ayotte likes this.

    Joel Carter My advice: commented
    Monday at 11:56pm via mobile · Unlike · 1

    Jenine Marie “I’ve never benefited from someone telling me to return to a painful relationship when I’m finally trying to take care of myself”. I feel your heart in this one and it is a timely statement. Sometimes we have to distance ourselves from those who harm u…See More
    Yesterday at 12:01am · Unlike · 2

    S. Kim Henson Thanks so much, Joel Carter. I love your advice.
    Yesterday at 12:36am · Like

    S. Kim Henson Same here, Jenine Marie. I so appreciate your comment. The one you mentioned is the one that has been most emotional to write about. “I feel your heart in this one …” Yep, that’s the one. Thank you. The healing is happening now.
    Yesterday at 12:44am · Like

    Jenine Marie Yes, just recently my statement to “some” is that in some cases life has to “be about me” because if it is not then I am living a life that wastes my energy to keep them satisfied that I will be the way they want me and not the way I am. I learned that…See More
    Yesterday at 12:48am · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson You weren’t a twin and separated at birth, were you, Jenine Marie? I could have written your comment.
    Yesterday at 1:09am · Like

    Jenine Marie lol!!!
    Yesterday at 1:29am · Unlike · 1

    Susan Baiden Chestnut Only if I ask for it or am asked for it…..
    Yesterday at 3:13am · Edited · Unlike · 1

    Diane Klebanow well said, Kim! Even though my “natural” inclination is to offer advice even when none is sought, I do my best to bite my tongue and put myself in the shoes of the other person, knowing that I do not like to recieve unsolicited advice. (and like the quote, if I do recieve it, I tend to want to do the exact opposite!)
    Yesterday at 5:15am · Unlike · 1

    Dolores Ayotte Great article Kim…
    Yesterday at 10:30am · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Same here, Susan Baiden Chestnut.
    22 hours ago · Like

    Jenine Marie hmmm… a counselor this sometimes presents a problem! I’m an advice column waiting to happen. But, at least it usually is solicited of me! Well, not to mention that I also happened to be strongly opinionated and occasionally might go on a well thought out “rant”, but that’s just me! LOL
    22 hours ago · Unlike · 2

    S. Kim Henson Diane Klebanow, doing the opposite – is that the rebel in us? I think back about advice I’ve given and I can remember the recipient saying, “Yes, but …” and balking at my suggestions. When someone gives me advice, I also get the urge to say “Yes, but” and balk, so I know advice should be given sparingly and with respect. Thanks for stopping by.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1

    S. Kim Henson Thanks so much, Dolores Ayotte. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1

    Diane Klebanow looking back at my post…I need advice on how to spell receive* lol…or FB needs spellcheck!
    18 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson I didn’t notice, Diane Klebanow, but even if I had, I wouldn’t have given you spelling advice. Lol.
    15 hours ago · Like · 1

    S. Kim Henson Jenine Marie, you’re good since people pay you to advise them. Mmmmm, now to figure out how to make that happen with people to whom I’d still like to give some advice.
    15 hours ago · Like

    Jenine Marie hehe! well..when you figure that one out , let me in on the secret too, because the way I see it in my situation is “not happening in this lifetime”! ;-/
    13 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Jenine Marie, I’m thinking …
    15 minutes ago · Like

    Jenine Marie lol..well you can think it over but no advice, ok??
    14 minutes ago · Unlike · 1

    S. Kim Henson Absolutely not, Jenine Marie. I’m taking my own advice.
    a few seconds ago · Like

  8. From FB –

    Patty Henson Anderson, Jeanie Johnson, Gayle DuBose and 5 others like this.

    Peggy New Great advice!! Seriously — sympathy (to me) =’s listening w/o personal understanding. empathy =’s listening w personal experience. The first =”s no advice and the second only “I” statements. ie. I did this when …. My spiritual advisor was the first to give me permission to not be involved in bad relationships w/o guilt … it was so freeing to have that “permission” that I found I could take the people in small (very small) doses … like my mother!! Other negative ones I walked away from for good or until God makes it clear I am to be re-involved. I do like the ridiculous advice … my favorite is to go throw eggs at a tree. It is really fun, easy cleanup (none) and given the many misses I realized I do throw “like a girl.” Thanks for your honesty my friend … I love you!
    Tuesday at 7:37am · Unlike · 1

    Jenafor Braley I educate people……as a RN.
    Tuesday at 8:11am · Unlike · 1

    Marie Strock Great insights, Kim Henson. Thanks for sharing your heart and experiences with us. Such a blessing!
    Tuesday at 8:37am · Unlike · 1

    Gayle DuBose I used to think that I needed to give advice too! I try to catch myself now. It’s a lot more peaceful
    Tuesday at 3:40pm · Like

    Jeanie Johnson Whoo-who! You are sooo right on this one!
    Tuesday at 9:22pm · Like

    Kim Henson Peggy New, you always give me insight. I LIKE the sympathy/empathy comparison. I LOVE the throwing-eggs-at-trees advice. Are you sure you didn’t get it confused and it’s supposed to be throwing eggs at the cars of people we can only take in small doses? Just kidding. I’ll stick with trees. I love you too!
    23 hours ago · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Patients need your advice, Jenafor Braley. Thanks.
    23 hours ago · Like

    Kim Henson Marie Strock, thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment. I appreciate your kind words.
    23 hours ago · Like

    Kim Henson Gayle DuBose, I love “It’s a lot more peaceful.” Amen to that. I got scared when I gave advice because I think I knew all along that I didn’t really know, but I thought I was supposed to know so I blabbed, then panicked. I like listening a whole lot better.
    22 hours ago · Like

    Kim Henson Jeanie Johnson, you know where I learned a lot of this stuff. Myrtle Beach misses you and so do I.
    22 hours ago · Like · 1

  9. From our son’s FB page –

    “I’ve learned … To ask others when they’re talking about a problem, “Do you want sympathy or suggestions?” If they say sympathy, then don’t give suggestions. If they say suggestions, give them both.”

    Solid advice from a very wise woman. Thanks Mom.

    Advice About Advice

    You, Anna Henson and 2 others like this.

    Michelle Pickering That is perfectly said. This is hard for men, i think because they automatically want to solve a problem instead of just sometimes letting you vent and justifying your feelings. Please read his quote…Marcus Lopez
    Tuesday at 4:53pm · Like

    Kim Henson Thanks for sharing, Rusty Henson. I’ve gotten a lot of my wisdom from you.
    Tuesday at 10:03pm · Like · 1

  10. Kim, only you and the person or persons affected can know what is going on in a relationship. My (half) brother died in 2007. He lived one hundred yards from me, but I didn’t know he’d died until a neighbor called to tell me. My name was not listed as a survivor in the obituary. I had to do a lot of soul searching about all this, but in the long run, I have to live with what happened. I’m sure I’ll have a good bit to explain to God, but for now, I’m content with my situation. I hope you are as well re your relationship with your mother. You and yours are in my prayers, and I’d like to be in yours as well.

    • Billie Ann, this comment is why we hit it off and why I enjoyed sitting with you in Sunday School and why we had such a pleasant visit that day at your frame shop. I’ve always appreciated your honesty. When you sent condolences about Mom, I almost let you know some of our story, but then didn’t want to bother you with it.

      I’m sorry for your lack of relationship with your half brother. I was listed in Mom’s obituary, but I wasn’t called by family. I heard the news from friends. These sorts of things certainly do encourage soul searching and, yes, I’m content about the situation with Mom. I even think I understand it some. Glad to hear you are also.

      I think it’s a wonderful idea to pray for each other. I’m comforted knowing you’ll be doing that for my family and me. Much love ~

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