When advice is “Do nothing”

A friend called yesterday. She sounded upset from the first hello. She asked how my day went, very polite of her, but I knew she didn’t call for that. Every word sounded like a drop of water that threatened to tip the bowl filled up to its edges. I finally said, “Just say it, girlfriend. I’m here to listen.”

Guy trouble. She said, he said, and now Greece’s recent debt crisis seemed pale in comparison.

She kept asking me, “What’s next, what’s next, what’s next?” Her fears and accusations mixed with hopes and desires poured out freely. “What shall I do? Shall I call him now?” she finally asked. I was caught in the vortex of her thoughts and stifled cries, but I knew what to do. To a woman of action who wanted an immediate solution (we have this in common), I offered to do nothing. I said:

“Girl, imagine that you stand barefoot in a muddy puddle. You’re shivering from cold. While your body feels the icy grip spreading up your legs, your mind is busy. At least a portion of your brain attempts to solve a crisis of global proportions, and to do it on the phone. So, not only your guy won’t be able to fully appreciate and understand the situation (as he probably stands in his own mental puddle), but also everything you say and hear is created and processed by the confused mind that has to deal with multiple demands at once.

Get out of that mental icy water and take a warm bath! Count to 100. Or, breathe in for six counts, hold your breath for two, and breathe out for seven. Or, take a generous bite of dark chocolate. Do whatever you need to do to relax the grip of fears and unfulfilled expectations, because right now you add more of the same yet hoping for a different outcome. There might be many explanations for why each of you had done or said what now hurts, or had not done or said what would heal. Don’t I know it from my own experiences?! If you need to talk to him, do it tomorrow from the position of mental strength.”

She listened to me quietly. Then she thanked me and said that she’d think about this. I thanked her for sharing, but offered no further evidence to support my case. I learned by now that you can’t force advice onto someone, however well-intentioned. After all, she asked for advice, not a rod to prod her to act on it.

Next day my friend called again. She said they talked that evening, but both listened to each other first instead of throwing the long list of their own demands on the virtual discussion table.

I was happy. If only international crises could be resolved so easily! But for our own mental puddles, next time it rains, put on a pair of hot red rain boots. Oh, yes!