A Few Words About Advice…

I was reviewing some of my quotes collection after having recently received another book of quotes, which I love. I’m going to focus some attention on the following quotes about advice:

“There is nothing which we receive with so much reluctance as advice.” Joseph Addison, The Spectator (1711-12).

“Whatever advice you give, be brief.” Horace, Ars Poetica.

“Many receive advice, few profit by it.” Publilius Syrus, Maxims.

“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” Erica Jong, How to Save Your Own Life.

“I give myself sometimes admirable advice, but I am incapable of taking it.” Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Letter (1725).

“I have found the best way to give advice to my children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” Harry S. Truman. Interview with Edward R. Murrow on CBS Television (27 May 1955).

“Here’s some good advice: Get good advice.” William Safire.

I’m at that point in my life where I’m frequently asked for advice, both at work and personally, although I often am bewildered by why someone would value my opinion given my personal flaws and failures.

I always struggle with whether to impart advice and, if so (which I normally do), what type of advice to give and how much of it to give. I like to be helpful, so I normally err on the side of getting involved, even though sometimes I regret it. I believe that it is a noble endeavor and a risk worth taking.

I tend to ask lots of questions of those who seek my advice, so as to make sure that I have in my possession all of the relevant material facts before I offer any advice, as I’ve found that people too often simply want you to validate a decision that they’ve already made.

That would make me more of an accomplice than an advice dispenser, which I try to avoid at all costs because it isn’t productive. Often subconsciously, people color and sometimes even distort the facts in order to bring me to the requested advice that they seek. I used to fall for this, but I’ve gotten wiser in my dotage.

As some of the above quotes point out, people often ask for and blithely dismiss advice that is given to them, sometimes even that advice that they give to themselves. There’s no shortage of folks who will gladly dispense advice, but is it good advice? About that, I have my doubts because too many advice givers in my opinion too often lurch at the first fact elicited and give off-the-cuff advice before learning all of the facts.

I maintain that good advice remains elusive and is at a premium. That’s not meant to say that few of us are capable of giving good advice; it’s just that too often we give advice without knowing all of the relevant material facts, so it requires more effort and circumspection on our part. The bottom line is that we need to be faster to listen first before giving advice.

As for me, I can never get enough good advice. It’s times like those that I miss my Dad, who was excellent in giving advice, and I say that having disregarded his advice at a couple of significant crossroads in my life and ruing the day that I did so each time. Luckily for me, he was always there with a nonjudgmental ear to help me back up after my mistake without ever once saying “I told you so.” He didn’t need to do so; I already knew that.

What makes for good advice? Good question. First of all, it must be based on the totality of the circumstances. Second, it should be long-ranged in its effect. Too often, in my opinion, advice given is good short-term advice but lousy or at least questionable long-term advice. Because I care about the person who has sought my advice, I strive mightily to give advice that is best for them in the long run. Finally, advice must be truthful.

This involves being willing to give answers that the advice seeker doesn’t want to hear, but that is best for them in your opinion at that particular moment. This won’t always be either easy or always good for winning friends and influencing people, but it’s what I must do in order to be able to look myself in the mirror. To thine own self be true.

What about you? Do you seek advice or give it? If so, when and why?

About lpaulhoodjr

I am an inactive lawyer who practiced almost 20 years as a tax and estate planning lawyer. Today, I am a speaker, author and consultant on tax and estate planning. In the recent past, I was the Director of Planned Giving for The University of Toledo Foundation. I am the co-author of six books, the sole author of another book and a frequent speaker and writer on estate planning, planned giving and business valuation.
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