Why is it that we all love to give advice, yet few of us are willing to take it? Giving advice is an opportunity to show our wisdom, but the fact is advice generally doesn’t work because everyone’s experience is different and advice doesn’t take these differences into account. As the saying goes, only the one who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Each person is in the final expert on what they are going through. If you really want to help others don’t be the solution, be a mirror and let them discover the solution for themselves.
The act of reflecting is very different than the act of communicating what we know. When we communicate knowledge, we express the contents of our mind, but when we reflect we become a medium for others to see their beliefs and feelings from a new perspective. The difficulty in being a good mirror is that our natural tendency is to express what we know; particularly when we feel we are right.
What makes a mirror work is the fact that it is empty. The presence of any thought, no matter how brilliant or wise settles as dust on the mirror and interferes with its proper functioning. We even have to give up trying to understand the other’s predicament. We have to simply listen and observe and restrain the mind’s tendency to figure things out. If we do think, we simply ask ourselves am I listening? or did I hear correctly? If we are to help others discover themselves we have to first make a sincere attempt to discover them as they are in their situation. Our language and thought is focussed on receiving from the other as much as possible with as little distortion from our own preconceptions as we can manage. We may reflect back what we receive in words or through our silent presence, through a look, gesture or facial expression. And it is generally our silence that communicates more than our conscious attempts to convey meaning.
Sometimes the freedom to express their opinion is all that people need. Our silence becomes the opportunity for others to pour out feelings that rarely meet the light of day, to discover beauty or passion, to explore new ways of thinking about old problems. When we verbally reflect by saying, so you think your friend is being unfair? The person might answer, yes she is, but actually, to tell you the truth, I’m wondering if I haven’t been putting too much pressure on her lately.
The problem with advice is that it is rigid and others have to force fit their experience into the framework of your advice. The place where people are stuck is always murky and defies all the categories that the language can muster. When we reflect we help others to see where they are stuck and encourage them to try out new directions. Be still; be a mirror; and you will give others something that will far exceed any words of wisdom you might offer.