Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.
A fool despises good counsel, but a wise man takes it to heart.
Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.
–Eugene H. Peterson
We all need advice, whether it’s about our finances, occupational choices, how to improve our relationships with others, or how to grow into a spiritually mature person.
The primary reason we all need advice is that none of us are all-knowing. Because we’re not all-knowing, we need to tap into what other people know so we can make better choices.
If you can humbly admit to not knowing very much, you are going to be more open to seeking input from people you trust.
On the other side of that coin, if you think you know a lot, you’re going to pridefully be your own advisor and royally mess up your life. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.” I would tweak that and say, “He or she who only looks to themselves for advice has a fool for an advisor.”
That we all need advice is a given in life. The more important issue is this: Who are we going to turn to for advice? Rasheed Ogunlaru rightly noted, “Choose your counsel, company and companions wisely: beware seeking wise words of advice from a fool or expecting informed opinions or decisions from the ignorant.” Sophocles stated, “No enemy is worse than bad advice.”
We have to make sure we seek advice only from those who actually know what they are talking about.
So, here are just a few guidelines when you’re thinking about who to turn to for advice:
- First, get advice from people who practice what they preach. Douglas Adams said, “The quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead.” That’s right. If the person giving you advice isn’t living a high-quality life, take everything they say with a huge grain of salt.
- Second, get advice from someone who knows you well. Some of the worst advice comes from those who haven’t taken the time to understand us and how we’re wired. John Gottman wisely pointed out, “Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that that person understands you.” If someone hasn’t taken the time to deeply understand your situation and how you tick, their advice will be off the mark and you probably shouldn’t listen to it.
Third, make the person giving you advice explain their reasons for it. Don’t just let them throw stuff against the wall to see if it will stick. Have them tell you why they gave you the advice they did. If they can’t explain their advice, don’t take it all that seriously. As Frank Sonnenberg put it, “Before acting on any recommendation, know the rationale.” Following advice for which there is no rationale means we’re headed in a bad direction.
- Fourth, act on the advice if it’s good. Don’t let good advice drop to the floor unheeded. Sallust stated, “Get good counsel before you begin; and when you have decided, act promptly.” Sometimes, we get good advice but don’t implement it, much to our detriment.
- Fifth, to the degree that someone tells you their advice is 100% true, run the other direction. No one should ever be arrogant enough to think their advice is foolproof and should be completely trusted. Mehmet Murat ildan observes, “The best advice is the one that presents the given advice not as an absolute truth, but as just an idea to consider!”
- Sixth, make sure you’re willing to hear good advice. Not only do we need to make sure the advice we’re getting is good, but we need to make sure we have ears to hear it. Hesiod stated, “That man is best who sees the truth himself. Good too is he who listens to wise counsel. But who is neither wise himself nor willing to ponder wisdom is not worth a straw.”
- Seventh, get advice from well-written books. There are a lot of sharp people out there who have put a lot of time and energy in understanding things at a deep level. Reading good books, something we’ve already talked about in a previous chapter, is one way to insure you’re getting the good stuff. As a person of faith, I believe the Bible is the best book to read on a daily basis for wise counsel. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Whatever else you read, read the Bible.
Munchkins, make sure you seek the wise counsel of as many people as possible, especially when the stakes are high regarding the decisions you need to make. When it comes to things like what career path to take, who to marry, how to manage your finances, and how to be an emotionally and spiritually healthy human being, get as much advice as possible from as many reputable sources as possible.
Make sure the folks you listen to practice what they preach, provide a proper rationale for why they think the way they do, have thoroughly studied the subject matter at hand, and are humble enough to admit that they could be wrong.
Make sure you are humble enough to be willing to listen and courageous enough to act on good advice when it’s given to you.