The Dangers of Advice and the Gift of Presence

My wife and I were informed when my mother entered a nursing home not long before she passed away that the staff would offer a few extra services to enhance her quality of life in exchange for a small increase in the monthly fee. We were happy to pay and appreciative that we could.

My wife and I are currently in our mid-seventies and don’t have any immediate needs for nursing or assisted living. However, the home we reside in is by definition a two-person senior housing facility. It happens frequently here at the place we affectionately refer to as The Home when one of us tries to “improve” the other’s quality of life by providing “extra services.” Sadly, those services frequently come in the guise of recommendations.

Some advice my wife gave me a few years ago seemed, how shall I put it, superfluous to me. Could I pay a little less this month, I asked, thinking back to our experience with my mother. Even now, when one of us tries to give the other unwanted and unsolicited “help,” as we both occasionally do, that line allows us to laugh rather than become defensive.

Giving advice is a natural trait of our species, and most people give it with good intentions. However, in my experience, many pieces of advice are motivated more by self-interest than by concern for the needs of the other person, and some advice may end up doing more harm than good.

I received a call from a man last week who had just received a terminal cancer diagnosis. A few family members and friends received his bad news via email, and one of them came over right away. His friend enquired, “How are you feeling?” As I mentioned in my email, I’m feeling incredibly at peace about everything. I’m not concerned about the future.