Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Other People's Problems

You know how it's really easy to identify someone else's problem, right along with the solutions for it? But your own are terribly confusing and mazelike; impossible to solve in a single conversation or new year.

So I had a chat recently with someone who has made almost no changes in their life in the last few years, and they recommended gargantuan changes for a mutual friend. I don't want to "out" a private conversation, but the advice was something extreme... something like "he should quit his job without a new one on the horizon" or "she should start her own business without any start up money" or "they really need to break up and one can move to Hawaii to work in a surf shop, and the other can get partying out of their system". It was a thing like that.

And while the advice was bold, exciting, take-charge action... it was also terrifying and I couldn't help but consider the source. Those folks taking big, bold action? I tend to trust their recommendations to do the same. But those folks who haven't changed "so much as a pair of socks since I've known" them? You can guess my gut reaction.

But in the grand life effort to stretch, to grow, to get more in touch with my life's purpose and live authentically... I'm taking one small baby step away from such judgment. Instead of waving off their advice (or, maybe, along with waving off their advice, ha!) to our mutual friend... I am going to spend this week thinking, "What do my friends advise me to do? What action in life would they like to see me take? Why? And what if I did it? What might happen?"

Sure, not everyone has my best interests at heart, and some people might give advice to manipulate me to their advantage, but a whole lot of friends DO have my best interests at heart. My urban tribe, my family-by-choice is filled with big hearts. So I ponder - and I welcome in the comments - what should I be doing more of, less of, adding to my daily life? What should you be doing more of, less of, adding to your daily life?


  1. Oooooooh this is sooo interesting. I've been encouraging a friend to make a major life change while I, myself, am not changing much of anything. And we don't all need big life changes all the time but yeah. So interesting.

    I think you're doing some really neat things right now and I've been on the benefiting end of a lot of the thinking you're doing in terms of church. So my only suggestion would be, "I want to hear more thoughts b/c they are fascinating and get me thinking about new things or old things in different ways."

    Right now I feel like Z and I have very little room to add anything new to our lives, but I think we're both realizing that we need to spend more time in service of others. We're young people w/o children and we owe it to our community to be a part of our community. So what I need to do once we move is to start volunteering somewhere. I have some ideas and those ideas will be executed post September.


  2. One way to frame the (internal) conversation would be to say..."what would I do if I was free from fear?" It's easy to be brave when it's someone else making the jump...and therefore easy to see what they "need" to do. But yeah. Gets tricky when the subject is oneself.

  3. Maybe we could all work on recognizing our big risks when we take them. Not to pat ourselves on the back for daring, just to remind ourselves that we can because we did and we are.

    (Seriously you guys -- new jobs, marriages, moves to the big city, a search for a greater truth, a willingness to question the way you thought the world worked. Everybody can fly for a few seconds. Those are forever risks.)

  4. This post saddens me a little. It presupposes that advice must come from an individual that has achieved a certain level of personal, social, finical capital in order to give counsel to a friend or loved one.

    One should not judge the merits of counsel from a friend based on personal internal standards of how a person should be living their lives. Rather an individual should be basing that counsel on the bonds of that friendship.

    Truth seeking should be just that. Truth seeking. If the advise is good than embrace that gospel. If that advice is too scary or hard than acknowledge that, but remember and save it for a time when it can be dealt with. If it is flawed, then it is nothing more than that. flawed.


  5. Kelly: Good points - esp that we don't all need big change all the time. That would be unsustainable! As ever, the question is one of balance… how do I grow and evolve so I'm not stagnant (past the point when changes needed to be made), but be sure to value and honor the ol' "where I am" of daily living. And I love the volunteering! I need to do more of this too… perhaps it is a conversation we can have when we're all Portlanders together?

    Arthur: Precisely. My problem is that my rapid, not-such-a-good-friend of a mind convinces me that I'm experiencing rationale and reason, not fear. (But it really is just fear.) So yes - our good friends are fearless for us, and that IS the sweetness, for me, in using their recommendations as a guide. Or at least as an opportunity to meditate on potential change.

    Nikola: You're right too - there ain't nothing wrong with a little cheering now and then. A remembrance that we're doing the best we can… and so is everyone else. (This is not, not, NOT easy for me to remember. Ahem.)

    M: Exactly. I hope we're saying the same things here, to a degree. I am musing that my trigger reaction to advice is to say, "Oh yeah? And how are you doing it?" and I am working to let that go; it's not a helpful reaction, and it takes into account only empirical evidence and not deep truths. (As in meditation… the thoughts come up, I'm supposed to touch them lightly and let them go, bounce along and away. But… SO HARD!) Sure, I adore the empirical evidence in life, but that doesn't mean it's always superior to the deep truth. Or even relevant to each other.

    I don't think a person has to have achieved certain things in life to give advice, but I can't ignore either that I take marriage tips more seriously from partnered or long-wed couples over single folks, and I take career advice from those in a non-field field like me more than, say, a teacher or an academic. I suppose I return to the idea of balance again. I hope I can learn to truly hear the advice given by those who love me AND remember that it's always easier said than done. I want to balance the value of all advice given from loved ones with my childlike desire for an authority figure with all the right answers. I want to balance the intellectual exercise of truth-seeking with grit of everyday experience. I don't have the balance I want in this arena… but I'm working on it.

  6. Or perhaps... as I have been thinking this afternoon on it more... I want a little more idealism in my life and self, where I can say "all advice is valuable no matter the source." And a little less of the "only experience matters" attitude. (And I will use the late, great Emily Dickinson as a reminder that small worldly experience can still translate into sprawling, trustworthy, grand advice.)

  7. Well, I am all about the baseless without rationale journey these days. In my "infinite" spare time I started day dreaming (ie "new art of escaping"). I open a Tea and Garden Center in Santa Fe featuring imported teas and coffees, indigenous artifacts, organic sustainable fresh cut flowers, and local farmed produce in a Costa Rican rancho style building with the name "Whisky Yankee".... the dream keeps me going. While I keep the same old socks on - and the start up cash drawer is empty too.

    However, I am reminded by my therapist (my connect to telephonic church) that its not necessary for the dream to manifests itself in reality but that it guides me to relevant and possible new directions for the next stages of my life. And while I lean more toward Emily's post about the the friend who spreads dramatic advice while wearing the same old black "comfort" socks (you never have to wash black socks because no one can see the grime), I do understand Mr Anonymous. Even so, giving credence to the idea that less life experience isn't necessary to wield profound advice - my 13 month old does it for my daily - I'd prefer to get my life advice from the wise one with the experience and spiritual growth record, after all would you go to the butcher to get your teeth cleaned?

    The hard thing about next steps and new directions is all the prior decisions that got us to where we are. To the position where dramatic next steps seem necessary and even vital. I suggest day dreaming and good old fashioned soul searching to let time reveal the answer.