“Most of us ask for advice when we know the answer but want a different one” (Ivern Ball).
NOT EVERYBODY WHO ASKS US A QUESTION IS REALLY LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER. In fact, as Ivern Ball suggests, people who ask for advice are often running away from what they already know is the true answer to their question. They are just looking for someone who will give them another answer: one more to their liking. But now and then, it does happen that someone will ask us an honest question, and if we’re able to give them a helpful answer, we experience one of life’s most gratifying moments. It feels good to be helpful.
To be helpful, we don’t need to have the answers to every question that might be asked. In fact, the most helpful people in the world are those who have the humility to admit when they don’t know the answer to a question. “It is a sign of strength, not of weakness, to admit that you don’t know all the answers” (John P. Loughrene).
Usually, it’s not the scholar, the expert, or the know-it-all who is most helpful to us — it’s the person who has lived with a healthy sense of curiosity about life, the person who has kept his eyes and ears open and thoughtfully observed what has happened around him. Practical wisdom, the kind that is most often able to help people, comes from actively and observantly living life to the fullest. So as the years come and go, if we find that we’ve not become helpful to others, it may be that we haven’t been paying attention and life has slipped by us. When we don’t thoughtfully look and listen to what happens, we don’t learn anything that will help us or be useful to those around us.
If we’ve grown in wisdom, however, there is another problem we may face, and that is the problem of being wise for others but not for ourselves. If we expect to be helpful to others, we had better be living by our own advice and not just telling others what they should do.
But finally, questions have a way of testing our integrity. There is an old proverb that says, “He who asks questions cannot avoid the answers.” To ask a question is to place ourselves under this judgment: what will we do about the answer when it is given to us? It is easy to ask a question, but the answer often entails a serious responsibility.
“Answer me this!” (Anonymous).