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A thought on theories and formulaic advice

Posted on: 1.22.2014

I think it’s the common experience for those of us who fall along the spectrum of youth to receive generous pieces of advice and wisdom from our elders. Wouldn’t you agree? 

This is a good thing. What a travesty it would be if younger generations were left to their own devices and hormone-driven ‘wisdom.’ It’s pretty clear to me that seeking and accepting wise,  godly counsel is imperative to living life well in these years. I’ve been handed my fair share of advice in life so far; some advice I see as golden so it gets tucked neatly away in my memory to be taken out and reassessed in subsequent seasons of life. Some advice I accept with a smile before gingerly placing it in the nearest wastebasket (after a bit of evaluation, of course.) Then there are those pieces of advice that feel downright destructive... I call these “life formulas.”

Life formulas are not my favorite. I’ll admit that a portion of these formulas can be rather benign so calling them “downright destructive” is overly harsh. A  benign formula is something like the following: “Every ten years a new wave of home repairs becomes necessary.” That might actually be helpful to know! If I ever live in one location for ten years, at least I’ll be prepared for an onslaught of maintenance costs at the decade mark. 

Ever since I allowed myself to take the plunge into a relationship last fall, (I know! We can talk more about this later :)  I’ve seen an increase in the amount of formulaic advice I’m given. I’m sure the intentions of said advice is coming from a good place, people don’t want to see me get hurt! I get that, and I really appreciate their concern. The thing is though, when I’m handed formulaic advice I notice that it’s often based on many generic assumptions about how “men” are. But the thing is, I’m not learning to love “men” I’m learning all I can about one specific man who doesn’t fit the mold in many ways. (Okay, in some ways, he fits the mold: a love of cars, guns, planes, etc, and the ability to dwell for a short time in this little space we call the “nothing” box in his brain.) But! In many other ways, I find he’s unique and who we are becoming as a couple is unique too.  

Formulaic advice such as “It’s a good thing you are in the habit of communicating so much because you know that once there’s a ring on your finger, the communication drops by at least fifty-percent.” is just quite unhelpful. I am thrown into a bit of a quandary: “so does this pertain to men in general?”  “Is this your individual experience?”  “Where did that statistic come from? Fifty-percent is a huge decrease in communication ...” 

As this phase of life has granted me the ability to think through the advice I’m given, I have also been thinking about how easy it is for me to give advice to individuals younger than me or who are facing similar circumstances to those I’ve encountered. Sometimes, I don’t think I even need to give advice. Often, what seems to be needed most is a listening ear, an empathetic nod, and a gentle smile. 


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