Ballard: Only give advice when asked and when you have expertise

April 6, 2014 

The birds were frolicking outside the window. Like friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, they appeared to be catching up after a long, cold winter. Wings fluttered against the blue sky. All of their chirping sounds were melodious and happy.

I stood unnoticed at the window and watched them for several moments. Finally, one bird’s eyes met mine and it quickly alerted the others. They seemed to become flustered and, before I knew it, had flitted off to a different spot to congregate.

I smiled as I walked away from the window to begin my day. Fascinated by birds, I could have watched them all day -- but my schedule wouldn’t permit it. I’ve always thought birds had a lot to teach us about life. They seem so carefree and rarely get caught up in the noise and confusion of what’s going on around them.

They mind their business and peacefully glide from one place to another, perching high atop trees to observe the world beneath them. Even though they often times look down from above, they never offer advice to those of us below who, without wings, are unable to fly.

It’s so easy for us to offer advice. It’s second nature to many of us. We all have an opinion and, more times than not, are more than happy to share it.

It’s much more difficult for us to restrain ourselves, sit back and just listen or watch. Without thinking, our mouths open and out come words that often hurt others. We need to learn from the birds and simply perch without sharing our opinions. But, as I know firsthand, that is much easier to say than to do.

Many times on stage I jokingly talk about being invited to other people’s homes. I talk about walking up to their front doors and observing or, as we called it in art school, critiquing their wreaths.

Sometimes before I can stop myself I think, “What were they thinking? Is there any help for this wreath? Do I have time to fix it before I ring the doorbell or should I just close my eyes and turn my head?”

Most of the time, I try to avert my vision so I won’t even start the critiquing process. Once you go down that road, many times you don’t know when and where to exit.

I’ve made a career out of sharing knowledge. For example, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on wreaths. God knows I’ve created one or two during the last 30-plus years. There is no right or wrong way to create a wreath, but I’m always learning new techniques and ways to improve them. Some solutions are just better than others.

If people ask me what I think, I’ll be happy to share my knowledge and personal opinions. Otherwise, I try to keep my thoughts to myself. And yes, I did say “try.”

It’s so hard to remain silent when you believe you know a better solution. However, for some of us, it’s hard even when we don’t. One of my pet peeves is people offering advice about things they have no knowledge of. For instance, people who have never raised a child telling you how to deal with yours. Oh, that one has always made me mad!

If you’ve never had a child, raised them from birth, cared for them when they were sick, comforted them when they were upset, celebrated their victories when they were up and commiserated their defeats when they were down, then don’t tell others what to do with theirs.

It’s very simple. Unless you have been in that situation, you don’t know what you would do and, therefore, probably shouldn’t offer advice.

Another example of this would be me taking my car to a mechanic and telling him how to fix what’s wrong with my vehicle. I could pretend all day long but the reality is I don’t know what to do, what tools to use or even where to begin. So, what do I do? I leave car repair to the experts because it’s not my within my expertise.

We all have things we excel in. There is no question about that. We just need to remember to only offer advice when asked and to only give advice about things we’re familiar with. We probably also need to remember to only take advice from people we trust.

The older I get, the more I realize that there are some ways we are like birds. From whatever perch on which we sit, our perspective is different than the person sitting next to us. Before we offer advice we need to be cautious. We never know the effect that advice may have.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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