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To give advice or not to give advice: Sometimes it pays to stay silent

There is a paradox in advice-giving that I find interesting. On the one hand, those outside of your own mind can often recognize things about you that you cannot. On the other hand, who can know best, but you, what is right for your life?

It is a never-ending paradox, whose answer seems to lie in the fact that both statements are true. On the whole, I can offer my experience, I can offer the solutions that I see, or the insights I have—but in the end it is the advised who decides. It is he or she who combines my experience with who he or she is and come up with the solution that works perfectly— for him or her.

I was standing over a booth at the Harvest Festival when I got to watch this in action, yet again. The table was filled with blue and green glass baubles— each offering a one-word poem.

I had already picked out “magic” and “now” for myself, and was standing with 4- year-old Sky, fingering the other colorful words when he asked, “Which one should I get?”

“What do you think?” came the reply.

He rephrased the question, “Which one do you think I should get?”

Reluctant to answer, I let a moment of silence pass.

“Maybe you can pay attention to how your body feels when you pick up the stone, and use that to decide,” I suggested.

In truth, there were a lot of things that I wished for him on that table — “love, freedom, joy, ecstasy, wisdom” — the list went on and on. But could I really know what word would sing to his soul at this particular moment in time?

Just before he posed the question, the artist had offered her own very convincing suggestion. Choosing a word at random, she said, “How about kindness?” She said it with such gusto that for a moment or two Sky was sure he wanted “kindness.”

Now I watched his hand move over the stones with more thoughtfulness, more slowness. He was still asking about the words on the stones, but he seemed to be paying attention also, to what was inside.

Even I felt the change in his stature the moment he picked up the blue stone from the right corner of the pile.

“Heal” I read to him as he held up the colorful glass.

“This is mine. I want this one,” he said assuredly, not bothering to seek my opinion. “For my growing pains,” he added quietly as the money came out to pay for it.

Of all of the things on the table, I would not have chosen “heal” for this 4-year-old boy. But standing there, watching him relish his own choice, the satisfaction visible on his little face, I could see clearly, that it was the right one. Despite any well-intentioned efforts, he was the only one who could have known his perfect word for this perfect moment: “now.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007- The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

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