Along the trail of debris that constitutes one’s life, all our experiences, we’ll come across decisions we’ve made, good and bad, and the resulting pain to accompany the lapses in judgement. Standing out in the debris field are those nagging memories, the I-told-you-so’s when friends, masquerading as sage mentors, offered their unsolicited advice. We never appreciate wisdom when it’s offered. I know. I have given advice to people, sometimes in an earnest effort to ease any suffering, believing I possess some knowledge earned through rites of passage and the Royal College of Hard Truths. People who have reached my age often deem ourselves to be imbued with this knowledge, or at least we feel we are entitled to telling younger people how wrong they are, and that we are confident we know better.
The truth is many people, no matter their age, are no better at giving advice than anyone else. I cannot confidently offer lessons on life, mainly because even though I have made colossal mistakes, I can’t be sure I have truly learned from them. And I can’t be sure that my closest friends’ advice has always been the best. On occasion I have received helpful teachings, lessons in life that made a huge difference, fortunate that I accepted. Naturally, I missed some points, and continued to make errors until I figured things out on my own. This was a stupendous waste of time, as you might deduce. If I had listened to advice and really lived by such wisdom, I might be better off, not that I suffer now. But I wonder if I’ve missed out. What if there’s some guidance I’ve been denied just because I wasn’t there to receive it?
I suppose this is another aspect of the human condition we must accept as the cost of doing business. Of course, just because no one ever cautioned me on the dangers of hitchhiking doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a bad idea. (It should be noted that at one time this wasn’t considered dangerous). Also, growing up in the 20th century, I was surrounded by smokers. But I don’t smoke, not because of the prevailing wisdom at the time, but because I never saw the appeal. I think by the 1970s it was kind of obvious that it was unhealthy. No one ever said, “don’t smoke, kid,” but they didn’t have to, despite Joe Camel looking so damned cool.
I’m a bit of a contradiction. Later this month, my wife and I will celebrate our 27th anniversary. But I have been a supporter of arranged marriages. I have my reasons. But that practice flies in the face of the whirlwind we experienced falling in love and deciding to get married. The thing is, however, a marriage isn’t about the couple. It involves a large number of people, not the least of whom are the parents. Nearly 30 years later, the main source of conflict is our families. Therefore I never give advice on marriage. It worked for us. That’s all I know.
I sometimes wish I could be source of wisdom, but there’s a down side to that. People would keep coming to me for advice on everything, from whom to marry to what career to follow. I’m no expert, and few of us are. Even the most successful people in their fields know that their successes are unique and might not be the same for everyone. Just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for the next person. I think what we ought to do is look within ourselves for wisdom. If we have doubts, that’s normal. There’s nothing wrong with not being 100 percent sure about a decision. But do ask for help if you need it. Otherwise, I believe most of us are capable of making our minds up for ourselves. Sometimes we might be okay even going against advice. That’s the beauty of experience: it’s your life, and you can live it the way you want, even with the inevitable consequences, whatever those may be.