Thanks for Your Advice, Which I Have Already Forgotten


I emailed my local member of parliament the other day. I had a couple of ideas about foreign policy that I expected would cause the nation’s lawmakers to slap their foreheads and say, “Why didn’t we think of that? Fly this guy in for a meeting.” Imagine my disappointment when this didn’t happen. I don’t know how much longer I’ll continue to advise the government if I’m going to be ignored.

Sometimes my wife gives the impression that she is about to listen to me. She’ll say, “Do you think we should move that chair over by that window?” At the beginning of our marriage, I thought such questions were a plea for my advice. So I would provide a reasoned and thoughtful discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of moving the chair.

Much later, I learned that the question was just a refined way of saying, “Help me move this chair.” Sometimes I’m tempted to disguise myself as Dr Phil, and then no matter what I said, people would listen to me.

One day I might announce: “You can potty train children and lose weight by playing the accordion.” Within hours you would hear the faint sound of polka music coming from homes around your neighbourhood.

As it is, even my own child doesn’t listen to me. “Son,” I’ll say in the easy tone of voice I use when I am sharing from my vast reservoir of experience, “if you take off your mittens in the snow, your hands will become cold.” At which point the boy looks at me as if I were off my medication. “No, they won’t,” he counters, waving a blue hand for emphasis.

Yes, parents freely offer a great deal of advice to their offspring. But there may be a limit to this generosity.

My friend Mary called her mother when her nights were being interrupted by a child who was waking up in Sleepy Lake, if you know what I mean.

Mum,” she said, “what’s your advice?” “I don’t know,” was the reply. “You’ll figure it out.” Mary was taken aback. “When did you run out of things to tell me?” she asked.

Mary’s mother has figured out that children don’t even take advice when they beg for it.

Where should I invest my Christmas bonus?” asks the son.

In blue-chip stocks,” declares the father.

The next thing he knows, his boy has gone off and invested his windfall in a collection of sporting memorabilia.

Some people might say, “If you’re not going to follow my advice, don’t ask for it. It just tantalises me with the hope that I might be taken seriously.” Having someone ask for your advice and then rejecting it is like being asked to try out for the church choir and then having the director tell you that perhaps you should praise the Lord in a more private way.

There’s a story in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 42) in which the Israelites come to Jeremiah the prophet and ask for God’s advice about whether to stay in the burned-over country of Judah or evacuate to the much more promising land of Egypt, where the motels had free buffet breakfasts and high-speed internet.

Whatever the Lord says, we will do,” they pledged.

So God gave them some free advice.

Stay in Judah and prosper,” He said.

Go to Egypt and die.” No-one should be surprised that the Israelites immediately packed up and headed for Egypt. I wonder if times like that make God shake His head in disbelief and say, “Maybe if I disguise Myself as Dr Phil ...”

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