Why I Stopped Giving Advice, And Started Listening More

Why I Stopped Giving Advice, And Started Listening More

I know my friends care, and I know they're right. But that just doesn't help me right now.


There is some, and perhaps much hypocrisy in the writing of this article. In a piece preaching about the ills of giving advice to people, I know that I am, by nature, giving you advice. But that was a piece of advice I was given a long time ago: if you really want to listen to people and hear them out, giving advice is the worst thing you can do. It took me a long time to accept that school of thought, and an even longer time to apply it to my own life, but once I stopped giving advice, my whole life changed.

I generally consider myself a peaceful, even-keeled person who is hard to anger. But there is one thing that people do that will put me in battle-mode much faster than it should: telling people what to do. Often times, my friends will tell me "Ryan, you have to stop doing this" or "Ryan, you have to stop thinking about this," in well-intentioned sentiments that often aren't wrong. In fact, I probably would be better off if I followed their advice and their expert opinions on how I should live my own life.

But that's not the point - the point in life is for every person to make their own decisions, learn from their own mistakes, and ultimately live their own lives. I never have as much of a visceral, aversive reaction to anything than I do when a friend tells me, often out of good will, what I should do to better my life or my situation. The tone of condescension that believes I never thought of their piece of advice before leads me into dangerous territory of doing the exact opposite of what they advise me.

Let me give a particular anecdote that has taken place in my own life: a year ago, a friend sat me down in conversation and expressed concern about how much I was drinking and how my alcohol consumption was reminding him of family members who suffered from alcoholism. He expressed how good sobriety would be to me as if it was gospel, and I remember the first thing I did in disgust: I went to the fridge and got a drink. At that point, I wasn't a person to be listened to; I was a project to be fixed, and absolutely no one was going to tell me what to do.

Maybe I'm just a unique, more headstrong type of person, but that is not to say I'm not tempted to give advice to my friends when they come to me with their own problems. It comes naturally to humans, and, again, we give advice to our friends and loved ones because we have good intentions. And it especially hurts to see a friend or loved one go through something so similar to something you yourself went through.

But in giving advice, we tend not to see that we're making our friends' problems more about us than about our friends. I remember, several months ago, listening to two adults share their experiences with cancer, and one was telling the other, "Yeah, I've been scared recently, and I just can't help it," to which the other adult said "stop fearing it. It's not going to help anything." While the second adult may have been right, that wasn't the point: the advice didn't help anything. It was imposing one experience of processing cancer onto another.

Research in linguistics suggests that language works through strengthening "frame-circuits" by experience, and that these frame-circuits get stronger every time we hear the activating language. Even negating the frame-circuit activates and strengthens it, so when Richard Nixon famously said "I am not a crook," more people thought of him as a crook. Likewise, advice such as "stop drinking" or "stop smoking" is more likely to just lead the person to strengthen frame-circuits related to drinking or smoking, and, in many cases, will lead them to drink or smoke more. I'm well aware that the advice I witnessed to stop fearing cancer to a cancer patient may as well made them fear more.

Parker J. Palmer, in "The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice," recounts an experience where he started to realize the perils of advice: when he suffered from his first bout of clinical depression. People just kept giving him advice, and although they were good-intentioned, they just left him feeling more depressed. He talks about examples of advice people gave, such as remembering trying to bolster self-esteem or trying to interact more with nature.

Palmer puts it most wisely here: "The human soul doesn't want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed -- to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is." People are well within the capacity to save and heal themselves, and compassion means to "suffer with" a certain person. Not many people do that. To be a witness that suffers with a person takes a good deal of time and patience to listen, which not everyone wants to do.

I have been in so much pain recently that every time someone gives me advice, I can tell they feel like they're in danger of catching my pain as if it was a disease. As Palmer notes it, these people in my life, my friends with good intention, "want to apply their fix, then cut and run, figuring they've done the best they can to 'save' the other person." It takes a lot, nowadays, to even muster the strength to open up about that pain, and the instinct of many people to say "I can't imagine what you're going through, but you have to do this..." is all forms of discouraging. I know my friends care, and I know they're right. But that just doesn't help me right now.

That isn't to say advice has no value: we go to mentors all the time for advice about things, and that's often one role they have in our lives. But the key is that people will seek out advice from the people that they insist on getting advice from. If we have an idea for a friend, and it's unsolicited, then sometimes it's better to keep our mouths shut. In my personal conversations with friends who are grieving and afflicted, the most I'll say is the occasional "yeah," or "I see." It is in being the recipient of advice-givers that I stopped giving advice myself, and started listening more, and that has made all the difference.

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I'm The College Girl Who Likes Trump And Hates Feminism, And Living On A Liberal Campus Is Terrifying

I will not sugarcoat it: I don't feel safe on my own campus.


I will get right to the point: being a conservative on a liberal college campus in 2019 downright terrifying.

At my university, I'm sure about 90% of the population, both students and faculty, are liberals. They are very outspoken, never afraid to express their views, opinions, and feelings in several ways. There are pride events for the LGBT community, a huge celebration for MLK day, and tons of events for feminists.

Then there's the minority: the conservatives. The realists. The "racists," "bigots," and "the heartless." I am everything the liberals absolutely despise.

I like Donald Trump because he puts America first and is actually getting things done. He wants to make our country a better place.

I want a wall to keep illegals out because I want my loved ones and me to be safe from any possible danger. As for those who are genuinely coming here for a better life, JUST FILL OUT THE PAPERWORK INSTEAD OF SNEAKING AROUND.

I'm pro-life; killing an infant at nine months is inhumane to me (and yet liberals say it's inhumane to keep illegals out…but let's not get into that right now).

I hate feminism. Why? Because modern feminism isn't even feminism. Slandering the male species and wanting to take down the patriarchy is just ridiculous.

I hate the media. I don't trust anyone in it. I think they are all biased, pathological liars. They purposely make our president look like the devil himself, leaving out anything good he does.

I will not sugarcoat it: I don't feel safe on my own campus.

I mostly keep my opinions to myself out of fear. When I end up getting one of my "twisted" and "uneducated" thoughts slip out, I cringe, waiting for the slap in the face.

Don't get me wrong; not everyone at my university is hostile to those who think differently than they do.

I've shared my opinions with some liberal students and professors before, and there was no bloodshed. Sure, we may not see eye to eye, but that's okay. That just means we can understand each other a little better.

Even though the handful of students and faculty I've talked to were able to swallow my opinions, I'm still overwhelmed by the thousands of other people on campus who may not be as kind and attentive. But you can't please everybody. That's just life.

Your school is supposed to be a safe environment where you can be yourself. Just because I think differently than the vast majority of my peers doesn't mean I deserve to be a target for ridicule. No one conservative does. Scratch that, NO ONE DOES.

I don't think I'll ever feel safe.

Not just on campus, but anywhere. This world is a cruel place. All I can do is stand firm in my beliefs and try to tolerate and listen to the clashing opinions of others. What else can I do?

All I can say is... listen. Be nice. Be respectful of other's opinions, even if you strongly disagree. Besides, we all do have one thing in common: the desire for a better country.

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Dear Young Voices Of America, Stand Up, Speak Up, And Do Something

Our time is now.


Dear young voices of America, I think we can both agree that we are sick of being told we are America's future while simultaneously being told our opinions don't matter. Now I personally do not listen to the people that tell me I'm better seen than heard; however, I know there are people that are a little timider when it comes to raising their voices. I am here to encourage you to be loud and speak up on topics that matter to you. There is no better time than the present to make your voice heard. Whether you are advocating for change in your school or the government, your opinion matters and is relevant.

We are the future of our country. How are we supposed to evoke change and reform if we can't have our voices heard? I call bullshit and I think it's time to take action. Even if you're the first or only person to advocate for your cause, be that person. Don't be afraid of anyone that tries to stand in your way. The only person that can stop you from speaking up for yourself and your cause is you. No matter how many nos you have to hear to get a yes or how many doors you have to knock on to get someone to open up, never give up. Never give up on your cause, never give up on yourself or the people you're representing, just don't do it. There is someone out there that supports you. Maybe they're just too shy to raise their voice too. Be encouraging and be supportive and get people to take a stand with you.

It is never too early or too late to start thinking about your future or to take action. But don't hesitate to say something. The sooner you start speaking up, the sooner you have people joining you and helping you, and the sooner you start to see and experience change. So get up, make that sign, write that letter, make that phone call, take part in that march, give that speech. Do whatever you feel fit to get your point across. Shout it from the rooftops, write it on your profile, send it in a letter, ignore everyone that tries to tell you to give up. Maybe they don't understand now, maybe they don't want to listen, maybe they're afraid to listen, but the more you talk about it and help them understand what exactly you are trying to get across, they will join you.

Even when it feels like you have nobody on your side but yourself, I am on your side. I will cheer you on, I will march with you hand in hand, I will write letters and make phone calls and help you find your voice. My life changed when I found my voice and yours will too.

So dear young voices of America, the time is now. Your time is now. Don't be afraid of the obstacles that you may have to face. Someone is out there waiting for you, waiting to grab your hand and march on with you. As Tarana Burke once said "Get up. Stand up. Speak up. Do something."

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