“We give advice, but we cannot give the wisdom to profit by it.”
~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld
I generally “bump” into topics for this blog. Or they bump into me. Either way, I’m happy to follow the path that serendipity chooses for me.
Today I’ve bumped into some thoughts about experts and expertise.
For some reason, folks seem drawn to the expert, and compelled to seek their wisdom. I observe many folks regularly seeking advice in the earnest belief that they will act on and benefit from such advice. Which, of course, almost never happens.
“Hakuin used to tell his pupils about an old woman who had a teashop, and praising her understanding of Zen. The pupils refused to believe what he told them and would go to the teashop to find out for themselves.
Whenever the woman saw them coming she could tell at once whether they had come for tea or to look into her grasp of Zen. In the former case, she would server them graciously. In the latter, she would beckon to the pupils to come behind her screen. The instant they obeyed, she would strike them with a fire-poker.
Nine out of ten of them could not escape her beating.”
~ A Zen Koan
I often find myself being seen by clients as some kind of expert. This generally bothers me greatly. For one thing I’ve seen the harm that can come from folks delegating their thinking to so-called experts. Yes, it can be comforting to have someone else do your thinking for you – God knows, thinking is hard. And there’s the added comfort of having someone lined-up to take the blame if, later, that thinking turns out to be flawed.
And then there’s the additional energy I find myself putting into guarding against my natural inclination towards trying to help through giving advice – even when in my heart I believe that any giving of advice is not in my clients’ best interests. I find it particularly difficult when folks ask directly for advice. Then, it can seem so churlish to demur, so patronising to launch into some more or less convoluted semi-dialogue about the perils of advice-giving. And so dissonant to advise on the perils of advice-seeking.
“The ONLY learning which significantly influences behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”
~ Carl Rogers
Feeding the ego troll also bothers me. I find it flattering when folks look up to me in some way – for my knowledge or experience or insights or whatever. Flattering, and rewarding, in that it meets my need to feel that I’m helping, making a positive difference for them. Bothersome, then, to feel each time it happens, that this is an illusion. For even slight reflection leads me to sense that by being recognised as an expert, I’m helping less, and making less of a difference, than could otherwise be the case. Approbation tastes sooooo sweet, yet simultaneously feels so bitter.
I’m hoping some current and future clients might get to read this. If for no other reason than it might provide an insight into just one of the many struggles that their therapist is also going through. And thus, perhaps, offer some opportunity for fellow-feeling, even empathy.
We’re all human after all.
“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”
~ Ian MacLaren
I’d love to hear about your feelings on the subject.