Life

If I were you….

We all know…

helping hands

Helping hands (Photo: Cristian Newman, via Unsplash.com

We all know these moments when a friend is in need. An unfortunate love life, a career not heading the way they want it to head, financial worries…. The list of things people can be concerned about is seemingly endless.

We also all know these times in which life seems to plot against us. Your car breaks down, so you have to take the bus to work. You show up too late for a meeting, losing that important client. Your boss is downsizing the department and your significant other decides to become your former significant other.

Of course, when a friend is in dire straits, we wish to help them. I know I do! Support them. Comfort them. And we all hope that our friends would do the same for us. A friend in need, is a friend indeed. Many articles have been written on the need to refrain from giving advice. Sometimes, advice simply isn’t what the other person needs. There are, however, instances where advice is exactly what the other person needs.

It is at these times, that another trap is hidden on our path of assistance. A trap which I have fallen into many times.

The lie we all tell…

I speak not of generalizations or being too dominant, I mean about the trap of making your advice too personal. I am speaking of the advice which starts with: “If I were you…”

When someone says these four words, they are lying.

No exception.

I say this with 100% certainty. Because, by definition, the statement “If I were you” is untrue.

But until today, I didn’t even realize it. Until today, I’d often use these words as an introduction, to create some distance, and to give the other person the freedom to NOT follow my advice. You know: “If I were you, I’d do …”, while implicitly communicating that it is okay if you’d do something else, because I am not you.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend. She’s going through a rough period, and she’s facing a few challenges. A few of these challenges have earlier crossed my own path. I have experienced them, I’ve come through them, and I like to think that I came out stronger.

While she was speaking, it was easy to connect. Because not only do we share the same human nature and the same human desires (all variations of not wanting to suffer and striving for happiness), we also share the experience. I -literally- know the pain.

I was right on the treshold of giving advice. Based on the pain I had felt when I was facing the same challenge. Based on my experienced. Because I know the challenge, I know the pain.

My mouth already started to form the vocals: “Well… If I were you…”

insight

…and then it hit me.

I don’t know your pain. I don’t know your challenge. Because my pain, while coming from a similar desire and situation, is not your pain.

I suddenly realized that if I were you, I’d be you.

If I would be you, I would have your background. I would have your experiences (the good and the bad). I would have your passions, desires, fears and flaws. If I were you, I’d be exactly the same as you.

So if I were you, I’d do exactly the same as you are doing. So if you are desperately in need of advice, how could I give it to you “If I were you”? If I were you, I’d be just as desperate for help as you are. Or I’d be just as naively enthusiastic about something as you are. If I were you, I’d make exactly the same mistakes you are making. If I were you, my choices would be identical to yours.

If I were you, I’d hate it if someone said “If I were you”.

But I am not you. I am me. And if I were me, I’d stop with saying “If I were you”….

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