Advice-giving and the Golden Rule

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

When I was pregnant, complete strangers would approach me with well-meaning advice on childbirth. I turned to my mom, who had given birth to six children. She gave the best answer: "Don't listen to anyone else about having a baby. All births are different." I knew at that moment she was seeing me as capable of going through this experience with joy and victory.

So, I politely listened to all the stories in the months before my daughter was born. Through it all, I could hear my mom's voice saying, "Don't listen to anyone else." As I heard the good, the bad, and the ugly of each well-meaning person's experience of giving birth, I didn't let them impress me with how I would experience that moment. I expanded this advice after the baby was born to include the idea that all children are different, and this helped me when people (freely) offered suggestions on how to raise my child. I didn't reject the suggestions, but I made room for my own individual experience to guide me.

You would think I would realize that advice-giving, which at times is helpful to some, should be given with a deep appreciation of another's capacity to hear, sense, and follow guidance from God. Although I'm not always the best vehicle for this, I love to think I am helping another by sharing my opinions and thoughts. A desire to share seems like an innocent enough motive.

Recently, I had two very different experiences that showed me the importance of listening to God before pouring forth my own thoughts. A stranger to me, Joan, was helping me on the telephone with some phone service changes. At one point, she had to connect us with another division, and the wait to get through was long enough to chat about personal issues.

Joan said she realized that others felt she should correct an aspect of her appearance. She didn't have a chance to go further, because I had an opinion about what she could do, and like a fish to bait, I bit. Suddenly, I was not just a phone friend, but yet another person who had given Joan advice about how to change, instead of supporting her ability to do what was best for her.

As much as I like to think I have a solution for certain problems, it may not be the right solution for everyone. Or it might not be the right time for that person to take a particular action. I yearned to correct my comments in that conversation with Joan and not just shrug them off as a mistake. I've learned that even a small moment can teach larger lessons, and I wanted to gain a more spiritual way of approaching this desire to help.

I stopped what I was doing and took some time for a God-talk. In these moments of prayer, His loving concept of each individual embraced me and washed clean my concern about my ability to be a good friend to others.

My opportunity to put this prayer into practice came the very next day. I was at the gym, and I saw a young friend whom I hadn't seen for a while. After our initial hug and hello, she confided that she had gained some weight. This time I was ready.

Looking at her, I saw only the sweet girl I'd always known, independent of her ups and downs of weight loss. I told her how lovely she was and how certain I was that she could not have that beauty taken from her. It was as if a weight of self-condemnation had been lifted from her. I left knowing she was in good hands with God's care and guidance.

Jesus gave a litmus test for human action when he said, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matt. 7:12). The woman who founded this paper, Mary Baker Eddy, also wrote a textbook, which I study with my Bible, and in it she stated, "Human opinions are not spiritual" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 192).

Here's how we can do unto others as we would have them do unto us: by having an inward conviction that everyone has the capacity to turn to God as a source of guidance. This tempers our zeal for interjecting advice. I want others to encourage me to see myself as God sees me, as His reflection. And this reflection must be perfect, since He is perfect; capable of nothing but good, as He is capable of nothing but good; victorious over discouragement, sadness, or frustration, conquering fears instead of confirming them.

That is the kind of friend I want to have and want to be.

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