No one on the planet is perfect. Throughout the ages spiritual masters have admitted to their imperfections. That being the case, we can certainly benefit from the advice of others. In the program we place some boundaries around this. The first is that we do not give unsolicited advice. If a person comes to us and asks for our input we are more than glad to share it. If we see a person can benefit from our help, we might even go over to them and ask them if they would like some feedback or advice. If they say no, then we need to practice restraint and keep our mouths shut. Even if we think that what we have to say will solve their issue, we need to remain quiet.
The area we need to be most careful about is offering advice in the form of criticism. This is especially true when we insult someone’s intelligence or abilities. Most of us believe that we are careful about criticizing others. Sometimes however we think we are giving good sound advice when in reality we are criticizing our fellow. Generally speaking if we are not 100% clear about what we are saying and how it will affect the listener we are better off remaining quiet.
Personal Reflection: Do I carefully monitor how I speak to others?
Before coming into the program, most of us really didn’t know how to deal with people who came to speak to us about their problems. Some of us thought they were coming to us in order for us to fix them. We often proceeded to give them an entire lecture on what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their lives. Others proceeded to just tear down the person and show them how weak, foolish or incompetent they were. Another approach was to minimize their problem and perhaps even make fun of them. And of course there was those who immediately started to talk about how their own problems far outweighed those of the person who came to seek their help.
Today, we have a different approach. We realize that most of the time people just want to be heard. It’s not our job to fix them or give unsolicited advice. There is power in just one person listening very deeply to another. As best we can, we need to drop whatever judgements we have towards the person speaking with us. We need to realize that often they haven’t had the benefit of the tools of the program in dealing with life’s challenges. Rather than viewing them as somehow defective, we need to pray that they have a spiritual awakening.
Personal Reflection: Do I give unsolicited advice?
There is a particular malady going around these days. Let’s call it the “I hope you don’t mind me telling you so disease”. These are the people who feel it is their duty to comment on every aspect of every person’s life. When you think about it, there is a certain arrogance to this syndrome. No one asked them for their advice. Deep down inside they really believe that they could run your life and everyone else’s better; if only their sagely advice was followed.
The members of 12 step program are not immune from this disease. In fact quite a few of them suffer from it. There is actually a simple solution to this malady. Every time a “hope you don’t minder” is about to speak, they need to pause and think very carefully and answer the following question. “Did the person I am about to speak to ask me for my advice or counsel”? If the answer is no, then they need to remain silent. To take it to the next level, even when we are asked for advice, we need to answer a second question. “Am I knowledgeable enough in this area to give good advice”? Once again, if the answer is no, we need to restrain our tongue. Most likely we will gain more from our silence than the other person will gain from our advice.
Personal Reflection: Do I know when to keep my mouth shut?
There are people who are constantly “shoulding on” others. They are the ones who give advice, often unsolicited. That advice often comes with a “should” attached. “You know, you really should eat more; eat less; go out with so and so; break up with so and so; take that job; quit that job etc.”. Those of us who have been in program for a while know that “shoulding on” people rarely works. People usually don’t change until they are ready to do so. We know this from personal experience. How many times did people “should on us” about our addictive behaviors with little or no results.
Instead of placing the focus on others, we now place the focus on ourselves. Once we do so, we find that there is indeed much work to be done. All that energy spent observing others in the past can now be of benefit to us. We discover that we can be very astute in identifying areas in need of improvement within ourselves. We need to differentiate between an assessment as opposed to a critical judgment. “Shoulding” on ourselves is almost as bad as “shoulding” on others.
Personal Reflection: Am I guilty of “shoulding” on myself or others?