Several years ago my family welcomed our Golden Retriever into our home. He is a rescue dog that came to us with severe aggression towards women. We didn’t know this until a few days after being with us and taking him for walks. Short of the long, we chose to consult the advice of a dog behaviorist who helped us as a family to be on the same page with each other for the dog, and it took nine months go get him to be like a dog again.
And with this new knowledge I was eager to give advice to other dog owners who I also met on walks. Many of them didn’t care most of the time saying it was too much work. But there were a few people who had some issues with their dog, and came to ask for advice and it rectified the situation.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t change people unless they want to change themselves. This is why, as blogger Seth Godin says, best not to give advice unless someone asks you for it.
Not a month goes by without people contacting us here at Catholic Men Chicago Southland (CMCS) for advice on Catholic manhood and spirituality. Likewise, we regularly meet with men over coffee to provide advice on growing in holiness as a Catholic man. And we never charge them to give this advice, and don’t think we ever will.
Sometimes people see advice as criticism. I find this in my own household that when people see how we live simply and our income is below average, they somehow think we are unhappy and make it their business to share advice on what we need to do, how we need to live, and how to get more work or more money. Often times we never ask for it. I always appreciate their caring, and if I didn’t know the difference I would take it as criticism.
I was talking about this with two people I met last week while in line at the Catholic Charities food pantry. They both have their own stories to tell about this very topic, how everyone is always ready with free advice on what worked for them – to the point of criticism. The woman is an intelligent retired doctor, and the other was one of the most respectable young men I have met in a while, who walked away from gang involvement after watching his younger brother be killed by the effects of gangs. Both of them offered how much of being a good Catholic they try to live out, without them first knowing my background with CMCS.
So, the key take away here, is the true secret of giving advice is after you have honestly given it to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.
On a side note, the good doctor asked in our conversation if we wanted to know why she was in the pantry line. Turns out, when she retired she was compelled about letting go – the ability to release from our grasp those things that inhibit us from developing an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus. Specifically, she gave away all the money she had and no longer has savings or stocks.
She only keeps her social security income in a checking account, and lives simply and debt free. This ensures that she is free from things and no longer distracted in her relationship with the Lord. I recall that when I worked for the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago that he did a similar thing, and he mentions it in his book The Gift of Peace.
Since we’re talking about giving advice, one thing about receiving advice then, whether asked for or not, is to receive it through forgiveness: What works for someone else often times will not work for us in the same way. So, I find, you have to be creative to apply the advice to your life, and have forgiveness if the person who gave it to you gets frustrated with you or doesn’t understand. This can be family or others who are most close to us.
This is what I love most about rescue dogs, is that when you love them with leadership they give it back so much more – unconditionally. Because they know the difference.
We have much to learn from dogs about love. But don’t take this as advice from me.
- When you see someone who can use your advice, do you make it your business to tell them, or do you say a prayer for them and stay out of the way or wait for them to ask you?
- What are some ways you have learned about giving advice?
- What are some ways you have learned about letting go?
Frank J Casella is executive director of Catholic Men Chicago Southland, and co-founder of the Catholic Chicago Men’s Conference.
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