Thursday, November 30, 2023

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 31, 2022 - Our Own Best Advice

Would it surprise you to know that I have a great deal of difficulty following my own advice? It shouldn’t surprise because, of course, I’m human too.

But that’s a little indicator of the inner contradictions we often have when seeking, receiving, and/or implementing the advice of others. We ask for advice from other humans, who have human failings and inconsistencies. We conclude that if they can follow their own advice, it’s worth following. Or at least it’s advice we think we should follow, if only we were better at following advice.

But when someone cannot follow their own advice, instead of sympathizing with the advice-giver’s humanity, we minimize the advice they gave. Or rather, we let ourselves off the hook for not having to follow it ourselves. This is very satisfying. We get to criticize other people, while not having to bother with any effort of our own.

But let’s consider this thought, which I’ve often used as an example: If a smoker tells you not to smoke, are they correct?

They are.

The suggestion here is to leave room for following people’s words, rather than their actions, when it comes to advice. Good advice is good advice, regardless of the source. The same can be said for all world scripture as well, whether you believe in the existence of a Higher Power or not. Spiritual texts often have some good and loving advice in them. Whether it is divine or not can be allowed to exist as a separate conversation. Consider the quality of the advice, rather than the level of self-discipline of the advisor, or the source of the advice.

I say this less because I happen to be a dispenser of advice myself than I do because I need to be reminded of it as well. I need to remember that not all people are able to act in accordance with their stated beliefs, their own best advice. 

It’s true that we’ve now veered from talking about smoking to much larger subjects like being a loving neighbor. But the attitude about it is the same, even if the stakes are often a bit higher. But are they?

We are in a crucial moment in human history right now. And it’s stressful, anxiety-provoking, and tiring. We are literally participating in a battle of light and dark worldwide. Love, as expressed by equity, justice, and inclusion, is starting to hold its ground against fear, as expressed by exclusion, cultivated ignorance, and isolationism. 

The world has shifted significantly in the direction of collaboration. The demand for fairness and democracy has not abated. Attempts to suppress human equity are increasingly met with greater levels of organized resistance that uses the very levels of collaboration the darkness is trying to suppress. There are consequences for the darkness in that fact. It is losing the battle simply through the act of fighting it.

We all have a stake in this game. We all participate in it, wittingly or otherwise.

So what kind of advice do you want to follow right now? What metric will you use, what philosophical writing or ethical guideline will you use to evaluate the advice you hear? Because it’s coming at us from all sides. And there’s a lot of pseudo-logic being peddled in the media by the talking heads that sounds about right, but doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  Like the fundamentalist quip to "love the sinner but hate the sin." That's nothing more than theological BS. Period.

Is it welcoming? Is it attempting to understand someone else’s personal experience without ridicule or violence? Is it hospitable? Is there room for compassion? Is it advising what’s right, or just what’s easy? Spiritual systems help us formulate ways to identify useful advice, as well as when its own advice is being twisted for nefarious ends.

People have used, and are continuing to use, world scripture to justify slavery, misogyny, sexism, racism, theft, and even sanction murder, claiming God has ordained it. But that is a misuse of scripture. And the scripture itself will tell you so.

The one and only rule is love. There is none other. So when someone tells you that God hates something, you already know they’re wrong about it. But the advice is to love them anyway because they know not what they do. They are afraid of what you already know to be safe. That is evidence of your privilege. Use it to the advantage of the world. Be with them, rather than shun them, so that their hate is steadily supplanted by your love.

That’s the best advice there is.

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