Most of us, confronted with problems concerning personal, social, political, health-related or moral matters, tend to rely on a pretty convenient crutch: advice. We turn to those closest to us who know us best and ask them to offer insight into what they think would be most helpful, or we turn to those who hardly know us when trying to find unbiased guidance. We subconsciously seek the validation of our peers or our superiors in setting the stones for decision-making, more often than not discrediting our personal opinion in favor of unhelpful advice from someone who may have less experience than us.
And yet, we are all so quick in yearning to establish our independence — to be in charge of our own actions, of our decisions and our opinions. We begin to associate growth with freedom and expect self-assurance and confidence in the learned. It becomes interesting, then, to note that no matter how old we get, how far we move or how independent we may self-identify, we not only heed others’ advice, but place it higher than our own intuition.
The advice we seek is our proverbial crutch, a game show lifeline that alleviates the stresses of trusting our own instincts, weighing our own experiences or making our own decisions. We share these responsibilities with others, hoping that they, too will then be held accountable for the repercussions those choices entail. Sometimes, this social reliance prevents us from obtaining the advice we most sincerely need.
Malcolm Forbes, former publisher of Forbes Magazine, has said that “listening to advice often accomplishes far more than actually heeding it.” This particular distinction is incredibly significant in suggesting the advice we seek is simply the opportunity to be heard, to allow our own minds to catch up to new circumstances and be able to figure out where we stand.
Take, for example, a situation in which a friend is coming to you for advice. Before being able to dispense any assistance, you must be able to truly listen to hear their story, to understand their context and to be wary of their experience. You do this to avoid giving unsolicited, unhelpful and potentially arrogant advice. A good friend will know that in most cases, one should listen for the purpose of understanding, and not just reply. In this sense, we don’t give advice to teach or instruct; rather, we deliberately show we are supportive of their personal strength in making their own call.
We must remind one another that while seeking advice is always valid, our innermost moral compass — the values and ideals which shape who we are — assist us in making decisions on our own. We grow from the advice we have previously received when we truly learn how to apply it to ourselves. Like in all matters, our experiences shape the way in which we approach life, the way in which we read and understand and react to situations. We must take the symbolic training wheels off our bike and trust ourselves to be able to stay upright on our own — to hold our own under new circumstances.
When you’ve spent your whole life listening to everyone else, there comes a time where you have to muster the courage to listen to your own voice. This is a time where you learn how to question the guidance given to you and discriminate between which you should heed and which you can do without.
To me, that time is when we establish our true freedom. It is the confidence within ourselves that defines our independence.
Hannah Gulko is a senior majoring in human development.