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Sat, March 23

It's wise to distinguish advice from counsel

I asked a person recently for counsel.

What I got was a lecture – filled with advice.

I won't ask him any more questions. Ever!

Some people apparently can't help themselves. They are so full of themselves (or … please fill in the blank) that, given the opportunity to speak, they become pontifical and excessively verbose.

Their dominant theme comes across as a "If you knew as much as I know, you would most certainly do this" kind of treatise. They give advice as if it were the wisdom of the ages. They believe the knowledge they possess is identified with certainties, absolutes and unequivocal truths. Even their beliefs have become universal principles that others would, of course, adopt "if they were as smart and as well informed as I am."

Humility is not their strong suit – to put it mildly.

Who I do appreciate are the folks who, when asked for counsel, reply with initial phrases such as "Have you considered …" or "One possibility might be …" or "Have you looked at options like …" or "Experience has taught me that …"

These considerate people understand that whatever the question, it is my responsibility to find a solution. They are too wise to conclude that they have the definitive answer to the question I am seeking help on. They understand that they should provide alternatives from which I could evaluate possible responses that make personal sense to me.

In other words, they know the difference between advice and counsel. The people who insist on giving advice have this unfortunate tendency to believe you should do as they say; that what works for them will inevitably work for you. Those who provide counsel understand that the decision for action must rest on your shoulders. They cannot and will not try to make the decision for you. What works for them may not, indeed, work for you.

The advice-givers are quite willing to take responsibility for your decision. They can't imagine your not finding satisfaction or success if you simply heed their advice. If you fail, it's because you were unable to comprehend their wisdom, or failed to follow their instructions. The fault is always yours, never theirs.

Advice-givers also tend to be the sort of people who can't bring themselves to utter those precious words, "I don't know." They can't understand that all of us are smart in a few areas and dumb in most. When looking at themselves they see only strengths; weaknesses or limitations are denied, repressed or ignored.

So, one summation of these musings is that if I choose to ask you a question, you can be reasonably assured I have already decided you will provide counsel, not advice.

Feel free to take that as a compliment!

(Ron Barnes is a longtime Prescott resident and a semi-retired educator and businessman.)

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