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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An Open Letter To Democrats From A Millennial Republican

Why being a Republican doesn't mean I'm inhuman.

Dear Democrats,

I have a few things to say to you — all of you.

You probably don't know me. But you think you do. Because I am a Republican.

Gasp. Shock. Horror. The usual. I know it all. I hear it every time I come out of the conservative closet here at my liberal arts university.

SEE ALSO: What I Mean When I Say I'm A Young Republican

“You're a Republican?" people ask, saying the word in the same tone that Draco Malfoy says “Mudblood."

I know that not all Democrats feel about Republicans this way. Honestly, I can't even say for certain that most of them do. But in my experience, saying you're a Republican on a liberal college campus has the same effect as telling someone you're a child molester.

You see, in this day and age, with leaders of the Republican Party standing up and spouting unfortunately ridiculous phrases like “build a wall," and standing next to Kim Davis in Kentucky after her release, we Republicans are given an extreme stereotype. If you're a Republican, you're a bigot. You don't believe in marriage equality. You don't believe in racial equality. You don't believe in a woman's right to choose. You're extremely religious and want to impose it on everyone else.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are rooted in truth. There are some people out there who really do think these things and feel this way. And it makes me mad. The far right is so far right that they make the rest of us look bad. They make sure we aren't heard. Plenty of us are fed up with their theatrics and extremism.

For those of us brave enough to wear the title “Republican" in this day and age, as millennials, it's different. Many of us don't agree with these brash ideas. I'd even go as far as to say that most of us don't feel this way.

For me personally, being a Republican doesn't even mean that I automatically vote red.

When people ask me to describe my political views, I usually put it pretty simply. “Conservative, but with liberal social views."

“Oh," they say, “so you're a libertarian."

“Sure," I say. But that's the thing. I'm not really a libertarian.

Here's what I believe:

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in feminism. I believe in racial equality. I don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. I believe in birth control. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in welfare. I believe more funds should be allocated to the public school system.

Then what's the problem? Obviously, I'm a Democrat then, right?

Wrong. Because I have other beliefs too.

Yes, I believe in the right to choose — but I'd always hope that unless a pregnancy would result in the bodily harm of the woman, that she would choose life. I believe in welfare, but I also believe that our current system is broken — there are people who don't need it receiving it, and others who need it that cannot access it.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms, because I believe we have a people crisis on our hands, not a gun crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, I do believe in science. I don't believe in charter schools. I believe in privatizing as many things as possible. I don't believe in Obamacare.

Obviously, there are other topics on the table. But, generally speaking, these are the types of things we millennial Republicans get flack for. And while it is OK to disagree on political beliefs, and even healthy, it is NOT OK to make snap judgments about me as a person. Identifying as a Republican does not mean I am the same as Donald Trump.

Just because I am a Republican, does not mean you know everything about me. That does not give you the right to make assumptions about who I am as a person. It is not OK for you to group me with my stereotype or condemn me for what I feel and believe. And for a party that prides itself on being so open-minded, it shocks me that many of you would be so judgmental.

So I ask you to please, please, please reexamine how you view Republicans. Chances are, you're missing some extremely important details. If you only hang out with people who belong to your own party, chances are you're missing out on great people. Because, despite what everyone believes, we are not our stereotype.


A millennial Republican

Cover Image Credit: NEWSWORK.ORG

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?


Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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