“In an abundance of counselors there is safety” (The Book of Proverbs).
GETTING HIGH-QUALITY COUNSEL IS CRITICAL TO SUCCESS IN ALMOST EVERY IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR. None of us has the vision or perspective to see all that we need to see, so we have to be helped by others who can share their perspective with us. And the more important the project, the more valuable good counsel is.
The difficulty, however, is not just in seeking counsel but in separating the good counsel from the bad. As the proverb above says, there is safety in having an “abundance” of counselors, but the more counselors we have, the more certain it is that they’re going to disagree in the advice they give us. The difficulty is that if we had the wisdom to tell which was the good advice and which was the bad, we probably wouldn’t need to be asking for advice in the first place. Only wise people can tell when they’re being given bad counsel, so evaluating the counsel we receive is sometimes quite difficult.
But while we must seek counsel and be willing to act on it, we must also take responsibility for our own decisions. Having listened to those who counsel us, we must sort through the options and make our own choice. Having made our choice, we must take responsibility for the decision. Counselors should not be blamed for our bad choices any more than they should be given credit for our good ones.
The best counselors are those who practice what they preach. I’ve always been impressed with Leonardo da Vinci’s admonition, “Ask counsel of him who governs himself well.” The person whose word should carry the greatest weight with us is the one who demonstrates in the way he lives his own life that he knows what wisdom is.
Still, there is no denying that hypocrites and fools can sometimes give us good advice. When they do, we need to have the honesty and humility to profit from it despite the source from which it comes. “It can be no dishonor,” Sophocles said, “to learn from others when they speak good sense.” If our own lives are to be what they ought to be, we must be willing to have the truth presented to us even by unfriendly messengers. Receiving counsel should mean more than simply listening to likable people who tell us what we want to hear.
“If the counsel be good, it does not matter who gave it” (Thomas Fuller).