Thursday, January 26, 2017


If there were only one Voice of Authority, life would be a lot simpler. 

Instead, Authority is one of those concepts that varies from person to person. Not only does the definition change, but the spin each of us puts on what Authority says/advises/demands comes out of our own lives and experiences.

I'll start the ball rolling with my own spin--that ought to get your editorial juices flowing.

In my long life I've encountered three distinct types of advice from Authority:

1. Parental Guidance
2. Well-Meaning Advice, or One Size Fits Most
3. Self-Serving Advice

When I was growing up, it was natural to hear words of wisdom or suggestions about behavior from my parents. The two things I remember most are these:

Mom: Put yourself in the other person's place.
Dad:  Don't get too close to people, you'll only get hurt.

Mom's advice always stayed with me. When I was critical of someone, or their words hurt me, I tried to put myself in that person's place--find out what lay behind the unkindness; and if I couldn't discern it correctly, I looked at several possible reasons. I still do that to this day, and I find it makes my life a happier place to inhabit.

Dad's advice has, alas, also stayed with me. It isn't quite the antithesis of Mom's advice, but it definitely puts a barrier between me and others. What I've learned on my own is that I'm always going to get hurt--by someone, by something, by matters outside my control. The getting hurt part isn't the issue; what I do with the hurt, or about it, is.

A kid hears lots of advice--besides parents, there are extended family members (older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins), neighbors, friends of the family who feel they have a right to tell a kid what to do or not do. 

I call this kind of advice "One Size Fits Most." Examples: Work hard. Practice. Do your best. (And to little girls, Act like a lady.) Always be on time. Think of others. 

Now I'm not against working for one's goals, practicing the oboe/soccer/knitting/cursive writing, or doing one's best. They're all positive actions. Sometimes, though, those pieces of advice come at a time when a young person is vulnerable--tries too hard; breaks down; wears out too soon. And let's face it--sometimes we just can't be on time, or thinking of others means neglecting the self we're given that needs nourishing to be a positive force in the world.

As for acting like a lady--my all-time favorite coffee mug reads: "Well-Behaved Women Don't Make History." Enough said.

Self-Serving advice was another Voice from childhood. It said, Behave. Be quiet; speak only if you're spoken to. Don't go any place you'll be embarrassed to be seen.

Lots of negatives in that short and un-sweet list. Not bad advice, per se, but look at the emphasis: Each one isn't about what might happen to me, the advisee, but about what reflects back on the advisor. Hmm.

The same messages can be turned into positive statements. Or, they can be the springboards for a discussion with the young person.

My last type of advice: Advice to Self. Or, Learning from Our Experiences.

We encounter all types of messages from others: positive, negative; practical, impractical. What we seize on comes out of our leaning--our own way of dealing with the world--and is likely based on our experiences.

My Note to Self: Beware of giving Unasked-for Advice! (There's already plenty of that around.)


  1. I find things work best when I follow my inner/higher guidance :-) tho I also like the quote at the end! xoxo

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Lis. We'll explore Frederick Buechner one of these days.