Monday, April 14, 2008

Unwelcome advice

I used to work with a woman I’ll call Dana, who was a fundamentally nice person, if a little overbearing and sometimes tactless. A year or two into our working relationship I was accosted by our receptionist, Eileen, who demanded to speak with me in private. She was, I could see, on the verge of tears so I followed her to the conference room and shut the door.

“You have to help me with Dana!” she demanded, almost before the door was closed.

I rolled my eyes, sure in the knowledge that Dana, with the very best of intentions, had stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong and had probably offered a tactless observation or suggestion. “What’s wrong, Eileen?” I asked. “What did Dana do?”

Eileen lowered her eyes and squirmed a bit. “I made the mistake of telling her I was pregnant…” she began, and looked up at me from beneath a fringe of dark bangs. “I expected her to be happy for me, maybe even excited…”

“Let me guess,” I interrupted. “She wasn’t overjoyed for you…instead she said something like “how are you going to support a baby on your salary?” right?

Eileen lowered her eyes again, slowly shaking her head. “Worse,” she said softly.

I waited.

“She suggested I should have an abortion,” Eileen whispered, tears choking her voice.

I tried to comfort her as best I could, but the trouble was, I could see Dana’s point. Eileen lived in a tiny little rundown apartment with her boyfriend, a beefy, blustery fellow who was unemployed more often than not. My private opinion was that Eileen was pregnant because she couldn’t even afford birth control…she wasn’t a stupid girl, just poor, and receptionist wages tend to be marginal, at best. I expected that once the responsibility of impending fatherhood came to roost on Boyfriend’s shoulders, he was going to be history, leaving Eileen the task of raising the baby herself…and probably with the help of welfare.

And just then, a thought struck me…just because Dana’s advice was unsolicited, unwanted, and even offensive was no reason to think of it as “bad advice.” Even unsolicited, unwanted and offensive advice can be the best, most fitting advice for a particular situation. And in this case, Eileen needed a baby like a diabetic needs a box of Godivas.

I gave Eileen a few pats on the back and suggested that she give Dana a wide berth for a few days, but not to hold it against her, as she meant well. Dana always meant well, even if she was a bit daft in her delivery.

I don’t know what eventually happened to Eileen. A couple of months after our chat she quit her job and moved back home with her parents. I suspect Boyfriend figured out his carefree days were coming to a rapid close if her stuck around, so he headed out for less restrictive pastures. But the epiphany about the purity of Dana’s advice…the fact that it went straight for the core of the issue…has stuck with me all these years.

Like you, I have been the recipient of unsolicited, unwanted, and even offensive advice, but I no long reject is for any of those reasons. I try to see past all that and ask myself “Is there any truth in this? Filtering out all the emotional reactions, is there something in this information that I should be considering?” Much of the time there isn’t, but on occasion I have unearthed valuable little gems of wisdom from a source I might otherwise have rejected. As a result, I have learned not to judge before I actually think about it.

1 comment:

  1. And it is all "just information". Whether the reciptient is overly sensitive or the deliverer is over bearing, it is still best viewed as "information". It is much like money. A lot of charge on it, but it has no power unto itself until we react to its concept.

    Wishing you well,



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