Advice and Advisors

It’s always tricky writing about giving advice; maybe because much of what is said is a writer’s opinion; and anything he recommends is in its way ‘advice’.

So I’ll try to keep a distance from recommendations and stay as strictly and impartially analytical as I am able to be.

Now everyone knows people who give them advice. In ‘Sesame Street’ there’s a guy who groans whenever he meets another couple of guys and whines: ‘Oh no, not you two, you always tell me too much!’

There is a class of person of whom the people I come from described as ‘loving the sound of their own voice’.  These are often people who would be likely to offer you unsolicited advice on this that and the other all day long had you the time or patience to stick beside them.

The first rule of giving advice is perhaps never offer it; but advise only when invited to advise.  The second rule perhaps is that one should never advise anything which one oneself would not entertain as an option for one’s own life.  If we all kept these two basic rules there would be a lot less advice flying about than there is presently.

And the fact that there are many persons who are not keeping these two rules is explanatory of a lot of misconceptions which those same persons espouse about themselves.

When called onto give advice we often like to talk in an ‘advice mode’ whereby we straightaway take the ‘high-ground’ of the situation and set ourselves at the summit as if we are and are able to survey the prospect in its entirety and so are able to sum up what is happening and what the best course might be to lead things to an acceptable resolution.  It’s a summit in a land that never was and never will be; it’s an imaginary standing which we have of ourselves in our heads; and we ‘tap into’ it like a trout swoops for an angler’s fly; as if automatically and without realising.

What we are doing in fact is disengaging rather than engaging with the person we are talking with; we lose sight of them as being like we are, a fallible human being, and instead we switch to a tutorial and authoritative approach which opens us up later-on to further reflections and to a chastened repentance further down the road.

People who seek advice are themselves too often looking for receiving more than just advice from an advisor.  Too often they are seeking a way out; a means to abjure some responsibility for themselves, and for which it is improper and futile that another should offer to bear, or even believe that they might take such a load upon themselves and for the sake of a friendship or in a misplaced sense of gung-ho or obligation.

Sometimes the person being advised merely wants to air their issues which are causing them anxiety and so the rather is seeking sympathy than any help with a course of action which might help resolve those issues.  There are persons indeed who tend to fit like jigsaw pieces together; seekers of advice who fit very nicely into the configuration of many givers of advice; by them being happy to bear a receipt of heaps of advice poured over themselves as from a slurry tipper; and all for the sake of obtaining that few minutes or longer of attention and notice, if not real sympathy, from their advisor.

The temptation is very real; that we as advisors might want to ‘play god’ and so fall into the snare of treating the person we advise as ‘a victim’.  And what are the commonplace results of all this?

The advisor offers advice which not even a person who is emotionally secure and not in a quandary, one who is seeing normally, as it were, would see fit to take up were they in such a situation.  It can seem so easy to us, for us to believe we are doing ‘the right thing’ and advising ‘the right thing’; it may indeed be ‘the right thing’ when looked at from our own standpoint, which lies outside of and disconnected from, and so unconcerned with, the standpoint of the person in the murky middle of the situation in question and who is being offered advice by us.

‘Ah wad some god the giftie gie us

To see ourselves as others see us’

The person whom we are advising in such a case most likely is wholly unable to take the advice we might be offering to them; because for them to actually act upon it most likely would either take a superhuman effort which is beyond them in their present state, or else it would presume a certain amount of mental derangement in their state of mind. Perhaps many of us know at bottom, regardless of whether we are advisors or receivers of advice, that the true state of affairs is often the case that the person with the predicament ultimately is the person whom life calls upon to resolve that predicament; and that consequently for another to be the agency of resolution will not and does not and never will work out.

             ‘Heigh ho, this life is most jolly

Most friendship is feigning most loving mere folly’

In some ways, and as a man of his time, Ludwig Wittgenstein the philosopher could be pretentious in his expression of ideas; although this one of his has such a nice turn of phrase that I am going to indulge myself and use it here:

            ‘Whereof one cannot speak; thereof one should be silent’

The frequent result of this sort of game-play between advisors and advised persons is a build-up of frustrations on either side. The advisor gets frayed because the advised person seems to fail to listen or even to have made the least little attempt to grasp the advice being offered to them; the advised person gets wearied because the advisor keeps on repeatedly saying over and over the same advice; which the advised person doesn’t think is good advice anyway or else in truth just didn’t want advice at all from the outset.

There are some mitigations to be added now and then to this, my quasi-comic and sardonic look at advice and advisors.  Exceptions occur whevever an advisor is genuinely expert in the field in which advice is either being sought, or else in a situation where the expert’s advice is sorely needed.  When say a technician competent in say electronics is asked by his client to advise on electronics to his client’s benefit; all can be well and, given that the expert does his job well, then no-one gets frustrated and things work out for the general good.

Alas, where a client of an expert does not seek advice at a time and place when it is sorely needed; or else seeks the expert advice but in fact fails to take it, because at bottom he does not want to; in such an event the frustration is all the expert’s burden – until of course the inevitable sh** hits the fan later down the road.  But even then in these cases the expert is very often made the scapegoat for the abject failure which follows.

Clients like this are often hopeless dreamers with highflying plans; they are usually clients who want the moon, on a stick, gold-plated; and who harbour no practical ballast in their extensive hopes able to sober their aspirations.

Such clients are likely often and ostensibly to solicit advice but in secret they are hankering after something other than what the best advice can offer; and these are perhaps the worst clients in the world to have to deal with.

            “All lies and jest; still a man hears what he wants

To hear and disregards the rest la la la…’

Or, as I believe, Margot Asquith once said:

            ‘You can lead a whore to culture

            But you can’t make her think’

I have written elsewhere about The Delphic Oracle and about its message to Socrates the Ancient Athenian philosopher; which nominated him ;’the wisest man in the world’.  I have laid out how Socrates set about in modesty to disprove this appellation; only to find that it was in fact the truth.

But as is often the case with Socrates, there is a cute ironic twist to the truth of that nomination.

Socrates had gone all around Athens interviewing men from all walks of life, of high standing and of none; and he came to the conclusion that other men thought that they knew things but it was soon revealed to him that they did not whenever he delved deeper in conversation with them.

Thus Socrates was deemed wisest by The Oracle because he was the one person perfectly aware that he knew nothing.

The exception to this conclusion, and it is one which Socrates makes, is for the tradesmen and skilled workers of Athens; whom he confessed duly and truly did know their various arts; how to make shoes or how to build furniture etc; but he saw clearly that their expert practical knowledge nonetheless was marred by their high assumption that because they knew how to make shoes and build chairs; they believed also that they knew about items of knowledge for which they had in fact no clear and cogent basis. Items such as justice, truth, knowledge.

So, I end now with another quotation, this one from Sir Walter Scott, who when asked to assist a colleague with what we would call today ‘marketing and publicity’ for a book this colleague was publishing, he replied:

              ‘Every herring should hang by its own head’

This, in general, I believe to be good practice.


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The Image and Real Life

I heard – a few years back now – a guy who perhaps thought he was being cool ridiculing and denigrating people whom he scorned for them seeing things in the photographs of an event they were present at; but only after the event and in the photos, and things which they had not noted in real life at the time of them actually having been there live in the flesh.

Now photographs themselves have been castigated. People have claimed that a person who is taking photos, say, during his holiday, he is, during and by way of the process of taking the photos, missing out on experiencing the live events themselves. He is said to be putting energy and attention into snapping here and there whilst his kids revel in the sand and plunge into the waves.  Like a man who failed to see a lorry coming because he was crossing the street whilst watching TV on his phone!

There is also some interesting psychology behind our watching of movies and TV and such; and also behind our habits surrounding our recording events; as well as behind our personal preferences and our taboos when we are doing these technological and absorbing activities.

For instance, I was walking today in a shopping mall past an electricals store which was displaying in Pole Position in its large plate glass shop window a massive TV with a screen close on 6 feet wide. As I was going past I glanced sideways at the massive screen and the action on screen suddenly called for a camera sweep across a set in a movie or show.  I felt my mind instinctively tell me that I was in a slightly unstable motion and my mind was readying me to grasp a handrail or to steady myself and hang in there. I had not seen such a huge screen picture so close up before; I was around two or three feet away from it on the other side of the window glass.

It was like ‘real life’ it was so all absorbing of my field of vision.  In addition there is now something being peddled named ‘HD plus’ which is an amplified version of High Definition TV; a next generation of technology upping the ante a little bit higher.

This HD plus when added to the screen size and the camera swing nearly fooled me.  I write this anecdote because it brought home to me how ‘gullible’ and ‘supersensitive’ our instincts and our senses can be.  Anxiety for instance is sometimes explained as arising from a persistent but thwarted instinctive ‘fight or flight’ reaction to a modern pressure of life. Anxiety then as a response to say debt is nothing more under this interpretation than our body telling us to run away or else to scream and lay on at someone; when there is no-one in the frame who fits the bill. Like bureaucracies debt is faceless, and there is usually no person behind the money burden whom we can bash or run from in modern life.  At best it is a big company we are up against calling in a loan or the bailiffs; and our responses are stultified by our hapless and helpless situation, by the size of the mismatch between us and ‘them’.

So I think my response to the giant TV falls into this instinctive category wherein instincts are just outdated by our technology and by our business economy.

As for watching TV I have found during my lifetime in periods when I have been fairly severely depressed, that I would always prefer to watch a TV channel above choosing to watch a DVD or a VHS movie instead.  My watching the TV channel was somehow a slender lifeline; a link with and to other people, the total viewing audience. In some uncanny way I was comforted knowing that others in other living rooms across the nation were viewing the same programme and at the same time as me exactly. A virtual audience in my mind; but one sufficiently strong to impress me and influence my sense of well-being

For me to have chosen a DVD or a VHS cassette to watch would have left me cold and feeling very alone; and I sensed this would be the case and never elected to put one on the player and watch instead of ‘live’ TV.  Once again I knew inside that I was the only person in the nation watching that movie and watching at that precise juncture in the movie; so that even were the movie a comic and very absorbing one; there remained a residual inkling within me permanently that I was truly ‘virtually’ alone.

Other art forms than movies and photo-images similarly have their psychologies. I have always found there to be two basic ways of looking at paintings in art galleries – at least for myself.  One way is to see the composition of a picture as a bunch of colours, or a bunch of brush marks or a bunch of shapes on canvass; as if the painting was nothing more than a physical object; and as if one was not a person but say the painting had ended up in prehistoric times somehow and no human was available to view it. Thus the picture was showing incomprehensibly, when taken from a point of view of it being a composition situated in a world where no comprehension of art was available (yet).  In this mode of viewing a person is able to study the colours and brushwork and shapes of a picture as actions made by the artist who painted it; he had to add a bit of black here and had to make a big blob there and so on.

Then there is another and an aesthetic mode of viewing paintings when one as it were attempts living in the picture as an imaginative being. One does one’s best to engage with the subject and the arrangements of persons and objects painted, so as to bring to life in one’s mind the emotional and spiritual aspects of the painting as an artwork.

These two ways of seeing are perhaps like taking part in a mind game of the self.  Try this if you have not tried it already.  I live on a steep hill and I find climbing it as a pedestrian to be demanding physically. I do find that when I am able to absorb my attention in the grasses and blooms and bushes, trees hedgerows and other botany which grows valiantly in the street gutters and in cracks in walls and bricks along the way; and so take enormous pleasure from a nature which is beautiful and delightful, and also very tenacious of survival and flourishing; when I succeed in engaging thus and forgetting I am climbing a steep hill, then the way is far less arduous and the time taken to ascend the hill passes much more swiftly.

Failing this, and when my joy in nature is less fixated, I might deliberately avoid thinking about the strain and the aches and pains of ascending the hill. I think of positive things or of things I find interesting or else pleasant; and it is absolutely fatal for me to surrender and acknowledge the work effort and weariness of climbing to my home. Should I tap into this fatigue and arduousness my task straightaway becomes very much more laborious and irksome than before; so I never tap into that.

I recall seeing in a hospital some years back a poster on a wall saying ‘If you feel well – you are well’. Of course this dictum is not always true; I have known a man active, happy, full of energy who went to his doctor who told him he had advanced bowel cancer and that he should ‘put his affairs in order’.  The man lived on another ten months and was free of pain active and busy until very near the end; playing golf with friends and hosting dinner parties.

Yet although not watertight the dictum seems to me to entail that when one is positive, and are a person who is tending towards optimism rather than defeat; the glass half full person; and I would add the Christian, or believer in God, who is assured life has happy ending; all this makes a difference; in fact it IS the difference; and it buoys one up marvellously.

The city, its urban sprawl, is much celebrated by its aficionados, who revel in its excitements and busyness, its variety and pace; but I am going to write in another article about how the city is a dupe, a robber of lives and of life, a place where what seems has taken over from what is. More on this later.  Suffice it to say for now it is another article on perceptions and on how our preconceptions and expectations shape them.

Back to photos a while. In defence of those people who spot things in photos which they never spotted in real life in places where the photos were taken; I would say that photos, whether good or bad photos, are always compositions made consciously or otherwise by the photographer.  They have a border and usually a very distinctive border; and so thus are self-contained within a context; which life for the most part never is.  Nature and real life are free of human constraints and from our attempts to put them in a box.  They both always escape any attempted summing-up or categorisation; just like bacteria are rising up quite successfully in a counter-offensive against our antibiotics; and just like those plants we call ‘weeds’ and those animals we call ‘vermin’ are hardy and determined not to be extinguished and wiped from the earth by our predilections.

When one is in a place where photos are being taken we are free agents and the world is before us in toto and splendour. For us to pare it down into ‘compositions’ using our eyes or brains is not in our natures to do. We absorb and train ourselves upon whatever is present or arises; this is the adventure of living.  This is why a thousand persons can be on one beach yet no person there is thinking about the same things and seeing the same beach or things on the beach; and this is what makes people so varied and intriguing encounters to meet.  The academics say ‘context is everything’ but the ordinary joe and joanne say ‘bring on what happens.’

So photos that tell you things you failed to see at the time are not necessarily an indictment of you; one is entitled to ‘be elsewhere’ and ‘going to California in my mind’.   Living inside the human social ‘cloud’; and among persons some of whom seek to impose and to dominate as a way of life; some of whom are and have been denied in fact the promises of The Bill of Rights, and of The Constitution; and who are unable to represent themselves in law; or are unable to get free because of having been disallowed opportunity; for these a resort to nature and to those parts of life which are free like the air and the wind, is their inalienable right and their actual means of escape and survival.

So, all is not as it seems; we see as we see, and others see as they see, and our seeing alters as we are affected by our backgrounds, environments, fears and desires.

 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

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