Striking a Balance

Any piece of advice I get, I can immediately think of a half a dozen situations where it wouldn’t apply; or where, if I continued it, reducto ad absurdium, it would be counterproductive, even dangerous.

Of course, the rejoinder to this line of thought is “Just use your common sense!” apparently oblivious to the fact that a) there is no formal training in common sense, and b) common sense is just a collection of conventional wisdom, and aren’t we always telling people to ignore conventional wisdom and think outside the box?

There is a reason that every aphorism has counterpart advising the opposite course: Fortune favours the bold? Or a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?

Therein lies the rub

There’s so much advice out there, each more meta than that which came before, each constructing elaborate frameworks to make decisions within. Each with a grain of truth, and each with its faults and blindspots.

I love to look at people’s frameworks. Their decision-making process is fascinating– you really get to see where their priorities are. My own first priority is elegance. My first question is, “How can we make this simpler?” Others I’ve seen are “I’m sure there’s some way to make everybody happy,” or “I’m sure there’s a way to fit everything in,” Or even, “How is this my problem?”

A framework is an outgrowth of your values and priorities and thought processes. Those three factors combine to make a decision-making framework that is absolutely unique to each person.

So why are there so many people giving advice?

Any single piece of advice is by definition a generalization, and each decision-making framework is as nuanced as a symphony orchestra. When you give advice, you generally make the assumption that the other person is using your framework – but they’re not. Sometimes it’s close enough to translate, like playing flute music on the piccolo, but other times it’s like trying to get the kettle drums to play the triangle’s part.


There are a few ways to scratch the itch to give and get advice without “switching music,” as it were.

Don’t phrase the question “What should I do?” Think of it instead as gathering insight into how other people would handle the situation. The bonus to this is that you can question their thought process and figure out how they came to that conclusion. Sometimes I know instinctively that someone’s advice is wrong for me, but I don’t quite know why until they explain it. (Generally, it’s a point of philosophy that we don’t share)

If you’re giving advice, make sure the other person knows you don’t consider yourself the be all and end all. Seriously– — why do you people listen to me?

Identify as many points of difference in your frameworks as you can. This one is hard, for the same reason it’s hard to question what shade of blue people are seeing. It’s clearly aqua – to you – and just as clearly teal to the other person. I could tell you at least 6 different points of difference between my frame of reference and each of my closest friends and family members.

Clarifying these points of difference is what allows you to see whether you can adapt their advice for yourself.

How about you? How do you go about finding a balance between one extreme and another?


8 thoughts on “Striking a Balance”

  1. First, I use my INFJ super powers and read their mind.Then, I ask lots of open ended questions, and listen to what they say, what they don’t say, and how they say what they say.And I STILL sometimes assume they’re thinking like me. Though I’m sensitive enough to when we get stuck, or disconnect, that I usually catch myself before I break anything.

    1. Yeah, but I still love that moment of epiphany when it’s like “Ohhhhh. I see where I went wrong. You think [insert fundamental point of difference] and I think [insert my assumption]

      I try to be really, extremely pointed and open about this process so that people can remember our conversation and use it as a template and an example for the next time the situation comes up.

      For instance:Once I was talking to this woman about her marriage. And she was outlining all the things that completely triggered her about her husband. Things that I would hardly tolerate in an acquaintance; not dangerous, just self-centred grandstanding.
      Finally I was like, “Wait a minute. Marriage is a partnership. How can you be partners with someone like this?”And she was like, “I don’t believe marriage is a partnership. At least not my marriage. My marriage is a crucible. I got married in part because I knew having someone to push my buttons would force me to grow and confront part of my psyche that would never be disturbed otherwise.”

      Obviously, I no longer remember the conversation word for word, but that was the gist. An I thought to myself how I had never really thought of a relationship, a marriage, as a vehicle for growth. I mean, they are, but to undertake that consciously? What an incredible insight.

      Still not a path I would choose for myself, though.

      1. Thanks, Richard. I think I knew that – I mean, I *assumed* that, but the pitfalls of “ASS-(of)-U-(and)-ME” is exactly what this article is about! 😉  This link would’ve been more directly helpful ( *to me* – but and also, I’m still wondering how Joel sees this operates in his life … Happy Monday!  Karen

  2. Excellent reminder, Shanna! In answer to “Why do you people listen to me??” – quite a bit of it is because you <i>explicitly don’t</I> expect us to follow you blindly! You’re constantly show-and-telling *tools*, and how they’ve worked for other folks (you included), but then you say “Here, go play with this — see what *you* can make it do!”Love that ^^^ ~ Bright Blessings, and Happy New (Chinese) Year of the Dragon!!

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