Giving Advice to (B0b) Dylan
When Bob Dylan was recording Blood on the Tracks –possibly the single greatest album in popular music history –he had to deal with a junior recording engineer who “explained” to him that he was going about the process of recording all wrong. After tolerating a good deal of this, Dylan finally said, “You know, if I had done all the stuff that people told me I was supposed to do, I might be somewhere by now.
Taken from Alan Jacobs, Snakes & Ladders (Newsletter), August 23, 2021.
Just Look Inside
As Ellen DeGeneres put it in a 2009 commencement address, “My advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.” Celebrity chef Mario Batali advised graduates to follow “your own truth, expressed consistently by you.” Anna Quindlen urged another audience to have the courage to “honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and, yes, your soul by listening to its clean clear voice instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world.”
In her mega-selling book Eat, Pray, Love (I am the only man ever to finish this book), Elizabeth Gilbert wrote that God manifests himself through “my own voice from within my own self…. God dwells within you as you yourself, exactly the way you are.” I began looking at the way we raise our children and found signs of this moral shift. For example, the early Girl Scout handbooks preached an ethic of self-sacrifice and self-effacement.
The chief obstacle to happiness, the handbook exhorted, comes from the overeager desire to have people think about you… The shift can even be seen in the words that flow from the pulpit. Joel Osteen, one of the most popular megachurch leaders today, writes from Houston, Texas. “God didn’t create you to be average,” Osteen says in his book Become a Better You. “You were made to excel. You were made to leave a mark on this generation…. Start [believing] ‘I’ve been chosen, set apart, destined to live in victory.’
The Monk and The Cup of Tea
The story is told of a learned professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him into his temple and offered him a seat on a cushion. No sooner had the professor sat down than he launched into a long, wordy account of his own accomplishments, his own knowledge, his own theories and opinions. The monk listened quietly for awhile and then asked politely, “Would you like some tea?”
The professor nodded, smiled and kept right on talking. The monk handed him a teacup and began pouring tea from a large pot. The tea rose to the brim of the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Finally the professor noticed what was going on, leaped to his feet and demanded, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing?” To which the monk replied, “This cup is like your mind. It can’t take in anything new because it’s already full.”
Taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton Copyright (c) 2009 by Ruth Haley Barton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
An Ocean of Feedback
We swim in an ocean of feedback. Each year in the United States alone, every schoolchild will be handed back as many as 300 assignments, papers, and tests. Millions of kids will be assessed as they try out for a team or audition to be cast in a school play. Almost 2 million teenagers will receive SAT scores and face college verdicts thick and thin. At least 40 million people will be sizing up one another for love online, where 71 percent of them believe they can judge love at first sight. And now that we know each other . . . 250,000 weddings will be called off, and 877,000 spouses will file for divorce.
More feedback awaits at work. Twelve million people will lose a job and countless others will worry that they may be next. More than 500,000 entrepreneurs will open their doors for the first time, and almost 600,000 will shut theirs for the last. Thousands of other businesses will struggle to get by as debates proliferate in the boardroom and the back hall about why they are struggling. Feedback flies. Did we mention performance reviews?
Estimates suggest that between 50 and 90 percent of employees will receive performance reviews this year, upon which our raises, bonuses, promotions—and often our self-esteem—ride. Across the globe, 825 million work hours—a cumulative 94,000 years—are spent each year preparing for and engaging in annual reviews. Afterward we all certainly feel a thousand years older, but are we any wiser?
Platitudes not Necessary
Writer Harriet Sarnoff Schiff has distilled her pain and tragedy in a book called The Bereaved Parent. When her young son died during an operation to correct a congenital heart malfunction, her clergyman took her aside and said, “I know that this is a painful time for you. But I know that you will get through it all right, because God never sends us more of a burden than we can bear. God only let this happen to you because He knows that you are strong enough to handle it.” She looked at the pastor and drew the logical conclusion. “So,” she said, “if only I were a weaker person, Robbie would still be alive?”
Every pastor and mature Christian learns, sooner or later, that there are times when the best thing we can do for one another is simply to cry together.
The Problem with Advice
I think most recommendations are bad because they’re one-size-fits-all. “Take more risks.” “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” “Work harder.” The problem is that some people need to take more risks, while others need to take fewer risks. Some people need to ease up on themselves, while others are already too self-forgiving. Some people need to work harder, while others are already skating on the edge of burnout. And so on.
The Seminary Faculty Guest
There’s a story out there about an angel that showed up at a seminary faculty meeting. In order to honor the dean, who had been a man of unselfish and exemplary behavior, the angel said God had decided to reward him with his choice of limitless wealth, infinite wisdom or unmatched beauty. Since the entire staff was on hand, the dean asked for advice. To a man, they quickly agreed that infinite wisdom was the best choice. And so, the dean chose to become the wisest man on earth.
“Done!” says the angel, disappearing immediately in a cloud of smoke.
Every head in the room turned to the dean. He sat perfectly still, surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispered, “Say something.” They were all anxious to hear what the wisest man in the world would say first. What wisdom had he been given?
Very slowly, carefully, and certainly, he said, “I should have taken the money.”
With all that new-found wisdom, he only knew that he’d had some bad advice!
Taken with a Grain of Salt
It’s a warning people have understood for centuries. Some advice needs to be taken “with a grain of salt.” Ever wondered what was meant by that? In ancient times, salt was hard to come by, expensive, and even considered as a form of medicine. In Latin, folks warned that some counsel needed “cum grano salis.” In other words, some advice might not be the healthiest around. In that light, you’ll want to keep the medicine on hand, just in case.
Trusting your Gut
Sometimes we are given the advice to trust our guts when we make important decisions. Unfortunately, our guts are full of questionable advice. Consider the Ultimate Red Velvet Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory, a truly delicious dessert—and one that clocks in at 1,540 calories, which is the equivalent of three McDonald’s double cheeseburgers plus a pack of Skittles.
This is something that you are supposed to eat after you are finished with your real meal. The Ultimate Red Velvet Cheesecake is exactly the kind of thing that our guts get excited about. Yet no one would mistake this guidance for wisdom. Certainly no one has ever thoughtfully plotted out a meal plan and concluded, I gotta add more cheesecake.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Advice. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!