A young mother is in a state of shock and overwhelming grief. The unthinkable has happened. Her son has hanged himself. The caption under the heartbreaking photo of the devastated woman reads: “But I did everything the doctors told me to do.”
This tragic vignette illustrates an all too common problem that likely dates back to the first moment in man’s history when the advice of a shaman or high priestess was chosen as a substitute for personal observation and common sense. (Notice I did not say teachers or wise men – the better of whom do not instruct by authority but only by guidance towards knowledge).
There is no shortage of advice but clearly there is a shortage of ability to tell the difference between the workable and the bogus solutions that are out there in abundance.
It is already ironic that I write what amounts to an advice column when my basic philosophy is, “don’t take anyone’s advice.”
To compound matters, I am now going to expound upon that hated subject even more and give you advice on taking advice. This is getting creepy but since I have already stepped foot into forbidden lands, I will bravely go forward into the muck and mire of inherently dangerous ground and proceed to tell you how to make the best of things when you are in trouble and are seeking an outside opinion. I hope this helps.
1. Carefully define for yourself exactly what the problem is and more importantly, whose problem it seems to be. In the case of the boy who killed himself, it turned out that it was the school’s problem not the child’s. There was an authoritative and demeaning teacher. The unfortunate student just couldn’t take the combination of ridicule and memorization-based curriculum so he did what most kids do: he became restless and difficult. The teacher and the school “solved” their problem by insisting that the boy be put on powerful drugs to make him more manageable.
2. Carefully look at the overall philosophy of the person or organization from which you are asking for help. It should be harmonious with your own approach to things. Also look at actual success rates regarding the problem area you have and please don’t trust their words: look at hard results that can be verified.
3. Determine for yourself if the advice sounds sensible and applicable in your situation. Try to work out how you might put the direction to use in your own personal case and see if you can envision how you would do it.
4. If you agree with the advice, try it out and carefully observe the results.
Even though most situations will not resolve immediately because they have likely been brewing for a long time, I guarantee you that you will know right away if you are on the right track. Why? Because even though your offspring can be utterly problematic and complex, you still know them and your family dynamics better than anyone else.