One must be doubly skillful when receiving advice as when giving it. Nearly everyone has an opinion as to what you should do in a given situation.
We can be obnoxiously forthcoming with advice, but stubbornly resist others poking around in our affairs. We were created part of an Ummah (community) and as such we must be willing to accept the words of others from time to time without losing ourselves in criticism and unrealistic expectations.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to take advice or leave it:
#1 Is this person the appropriate advisor?
The answer to this question becomes increasingly vital as decision increase in importance. Friends and family can, at times, be the worst advisors. There is a tendency to tell you what you want to hear or give advice that will maintain the current dynamic of the relationship, thereby keeping you close and small. Still other well-intentioned loved ones speak out of fear that you will fail or get hurt or unconsciously project their expectations onto you.
#2 Does the advisor have a history of making good decisions in this area of life?
This one is pretty obvious. If you are seeking marriage advice, the person who is miserably married is not the one to ask unless they are warning you against their own mistakes. Misery loves company so beware of sisters teaching you their ways. They may be trying to ruin what you have.
#3 Know your own voice (this should have been #1)
It’s a good idea before you go seeking advice from anyone that you sit down with yourself for a minute and search your own soul. Very few decisions require the input of another, but many of us are trained to give our power over to other people. I live by a simple rule-I make my own decisions. To quote Thomas Sowell “it is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
I have never, ever regretted following my own mind even when the consequences were painful, but I have regretted ever single instance in which I listened to someone else despite my own misgivings. Time reveals the wisdom of your choices. Just because today things seem to be going against you does not mean it will remain that way forever. Fewer experiences are more empowering than being judged for an unpopular choice and finding you were right all along. Besides being vindicated you learn that you can trust yourself.
#4 People can’t get in your business if they don’t know it.
“I only complain of my sorry and grief to Allah…” Surah Yusuf 12.86
The best way to avoid unwanted advice is to say nothing about any problems or major decisions you are facing. It is absolutely impossible for someone to become tangled in your problems if they know nothing about them. Anytime something major happens in my life, I keep it to myself. If I cannot, I ask anonymously in online forums. Since I began this practice I have had zero conflicts with friends and family. *Note: in the absence of information, there are still those people who will invent their own version of your life and treat it as truth. This is life’s way of informing you that you need new friends and associates.
#5 Your advisor is only human.
No matter how wise your advisor, they cannot see the unseen or know the unknown (Surah Al-Jinn 72.26). Any advice they give will be limited where they are limited and based on their personal experience. Man is a hasty being (Surah Al-Anbiya 21.37). We have a tendency to jump to conclusions that are triggered by a lifetime of experience and emotion. We fail to do the work of gathering information and thinking through it. Very, very few people are practiced in thinking and those who are still have blind spots in their perceptions. This is reality and it can cause problems.
#6 No matter what you decide you may still get it wrong, but that is alright.
Allah has got this all under control. It is impossible to mess it all up forever unless you refuse to see the truth and make the necessary adjustments. Allah is always waiting for us to turn back to the right way and then He uses our mess to lead us back to the path better than we were before (Surah Al-Baqarah 2.160).
There is not one single person who makes all the correct decisions the first time, every time. Every person you encounter has done something that when they think about it, they wince. It is just lucky for them that you don’t know about it. Forgive yourself for not knowing what to do all the time, but when you know what is right, there is no excuse for not adjusting and doing it.
Even if you have wrecked it and made the biggest mess, do something different now and tomorrow will be better. You never lose anything you need for the rest of your journey.
#7 Let go of your need for others to approve of your choices
Usually we are not confused about what we want at all. What we experience as confusion is actually the discomfort of trying to make a decision that will satisfy us without alienating those around us. Sometimes this is impossible, other times it is inappropriate.
It is ideal that everyone be happy and it is usually possible, but there are some times in life when we must make a choice that is unpopular with others. When you have to choose safety, health and overall well-being, it is completely inappropriate to even consider the feelings of people who are not being negatively affected by the circumstances.
If you are being physically, emotionally or mentally abused by someone, another person’s opinion of that person or their desire for you to remain in relationship is irrelevant. No one has a right to demand you be harmed to please them. If someone gives you grief over dumping a bad partner or friend, get rid of them to while you’re at it. They are not for you.
Unpopular choices can have painful consequences initially. It is easy for others to play Monday morning quarterback with your life, but if they don’t have a dog in the fight so to speak, they don’t get to demand a certain choice be made.
An appropriate advisor is someone with positive experience in the area in question, who loves you enough to tell you the truth in love, but respects your rights as an individual enough to back off and let you make the decision without demanding that you make them comfortable in doing so.
As you become conscious in your life, you will see more clearly what is right for you. You will trust your own decision making capabilities making validation-seeking less necessary. Your friends and sisters in Islam will be free to be just that-friends and sisters.