The Problem with Popular Advice

The Problem with Popular Advice

I’m not a big fan of a lot of the popular feel good advice floating around cyberspace. There are three reasons why I think people should be careful before accepting everything that seems to resonate with them: different contexts, lack of credibility, and selfish cause. Let me explain:

Different Contexts
I see a lot of people posting things about Denmark and saying, “Why can’t the Philippines be like this?” or posting things on unlimited paternity or maternity, unlimited vacations, and the all famous “work-life balance”. The problem with just reading these things without understanding is that we’ll see ideal results yet forget that these amazing stories are not “entitled rights” but “earned privileges” Denmark is the way it is because of of its leaders. Their leaders are that way because their people are a certain way. Their people are a certain way because of their history, a history that included some very trying times. When all you appreciate is the result but don’t understand the cost, you’ll be disappointed with your current situation at best and be an entitled brat at worst. When you read articles like “unlimited vacation for Virgin employees” and don’t realize it’s not for all companies within the group, nor is it for all the suppliers and contractors that work “full time” to keep their businesses running, then you realize it’s a setup that can work with highly-dedicated, reliable team members but not with just anyone, much less everyone. When you realize that balance is something an individual achieves for himself or herself, no matter what the circumstances, you’ll work hard and focus on being as effective during work hours so that you can work just as hard and focus in the gym, or while studying, or in prayer.

Let me give you another example. Some people might read that an article about how Google or Facebook is such an awesome place to work and automatically think that it’s how their own work place should be. They’ll make comments like, “I would be more productive if I worked in an office like that.” What they don’t realize is that it’s the other way around. The reason why Google and Facebook have been able to build offices like that is because they first had productive people. Giving highly productive people perks and support only makes them more productive. Giving unproductive people more perks only spoils them. Maybe, if we become as productive as the people who work in these fancy offices, we will find ourselves working in similar premises.

Here’s the first point: If you read an article but don’t understand the context you will not become wiser but more entitled. The second point is this: See beautiful circumstances as achievements not rights. If you want a certain future, figure out the cost, and pay for it.

Lack of Credibility
The second problem is that, many times, we have no idea who the author is, we have no idea the sources, or the validity of the sources, we have no idea whether the person knows anything about the subject, and we don’t know the experience level. The simple question we should ask when reading the work of someone is this:

What makes this person credible to write on this topic?

Which is why I find it quite funny when employees won’t listen to the leaders who employ them, the people who give them opportunity and pay their salaries, but will very easily buy into the position of some article with a writer they don’t know. They don’t realize that they liked the article not because it was wise but because it resonated with them. Not everything that resonates with me is wise. And many of the things that have helped me we’re not inspiring and resonating lessons but hard truths correcting me, maturing me, and strengthening me.

Don’t simply buy into an article that resonates. Question the credibility of the author. If he is credible, it will show.

Selfish Cause
My last reason for why I don’t like many popular blogs is because a lot of them have a Selfish Cause. That cause is the uplifting of ME. The problem with being selfish is that it shrinks your world. It doesn’t expand it. Then we wonder why we feel so small. Selfishness makes us see our own contributions but discounts the contributions of others to our lives. Selfishness makes us sensitive to our own needs so we miss the great opportunities around us every day. Selfishness makes us easily frustrated when our agenda or goals aren’t met but don’t think about how we enable the goals of others more. When we read articles with selfish, me, me, me articles without intelligent reflection, without asking “Will following this article make me more loving? Will it make me contribute more? Will it make me a bigger blessing to others?” we will simply reinforce our entitlements, leading to a narrow mind and a smaller impact.

My opinion is this: Pick goals bigger than yourself and your family. Pick goals bigger than your bottom line. This is very difficult. It’s a challenge for me as well.

But it’s Christian.

Do Whatever It Takes to Love God and Love Others
I like to simplify my life. And one way I simplify it is by sticking to two criteria for whether I lived well: Did I love God and others as best as I could today? Let’s say work didn’t go so well, but did I love God and others? Did people come closer to God because of me? Or did they get turned off with my self-righteous harshness? Did I make a good example of what it means to truly have faith? (Which is to believe in something so much we work hard to embrace it.) Or do I have a superstitious belief system? There’s a lot of popular advice floating around but we can really weigh our lives by this simple question: Did I love God and others as best as I could today?

We can argue or rationalize that we only did what was necessary, or that it’s important to love ourselves, or that we can’t be a doormat, but God never asked us to be ultra successful or ultra confident or ultra powerful. He did ask us to love Him.

My encouragement for us as we end this weekend to ask ourselves whether we are loving God and others more today than we did yesterday, to test the value of an article by whether it makes us more loving, and to follow advice that understands our context, is from credible sources, and is not motivated by selfish causes.

Dark Days’ Devotions

When the dream is great but the skill is weak
When the lofty goal beacons and taunts
When the seriousness of the moment is lost
When the isolation of the calling haunts
There, within challenge, is character wrought

When people opine, criticize, and talk
When many share the excitement but not the burden
When the empty drums are revealed for who
When the boys have no choice but be men
There, within necessity, is greatness bought

When man and woman can only work in the bright
When the lack of an ideal leads to impotence
When human reflection is as shallow as me
When I need a new perspective, a new lens
In dark days’ devotions, You I sought
#db

The Tale of the Village

Once upon a time, there was a village in a desert that relied on this pipe connected to a lake for water. In the village, the pipe connected to a pool where villagers could draw from. Now because the water was a finite resource, everyone in the village had certain rations. But because of decades of bad management the pipe’s once sufficient flow no longer put out enough water. The village, made of bright and opinionated people, through their extensive research on Google, sitting in their chairs, found that the reason there was little water was because there were massive holes in the pipe. Yet these same people decided that the best solution was to demand from the village leaders that they increase the ration of each villager so that they could expect to receive more water, the water after all was very badly needed. The leaders thought about it, and decided that since they’re going to be skewered on social media if they didn’t do that, that it was the right decision to increase rations. So they signed an order increasing what each villager should get without first fixing the holes in the pipe. On the day when the new rations were to take effect, the village people cheered the politicians. The sponsors of the bill gave speeches about how being compassionate and caring for people with needs, and everyone clapped. With a beautiful ceremony, they announced that from this day forward, that the village people could rely on larger rations because the government hadmade it a law. The people lined up for their rations and great excitement all carrying larger buckets. The government had listened to their tweets and posts and memes. The first batch of villagers drew from the pipe, filled their buckets, and exclaimed, “I have more water!” And the crowd cheered once more. The next batch did the same, and they also exclaimed, “I have more water!” And the crowd got even more excited. Those who waited down the line were hopeful, thinking, “Since they got more water, I shall have more water”.  Batch after batch drew, until they started realizing that the water in the pool was running out, so it took longer for newer batches to fill their buckets, and longer, and longer, until finally, some batches started to have none. “You lied to us stupid leaders!”, one said. Another called them “lacking in compassion”, “corrupt for taking more water”, and still another called them “stupid shits”. 

“Fix this mess!” The people demanded. “Fix it because your are our leaders! Increase our rations of water!” Yet these same people decided that the best solution was to demand from the village leaders that they increase the ration of each villager so that they could expect to receive more water, the water after all was very badly needed. The leaders thought about it, and decided that since they’re going to be skewered on social media if they didn’t do that, that it was the right decision to increase rations. So they signed an order increasing what each villager should get without first fixing the holes in the pipe. On the day when the new rations were to take effect, the village people cheered the politicians. The sponsors of the bill gave speeches about how being compassionate and caring for people with needs, and everyone clapped. With a beautiful ceremony, they announced that from this day forward, that the village people could rely on larger rations because the government hadmade it a law. The people lined up for their rations and great excitement all carrying larger buckets. The government had listened to their tweets and posts and memes. The first batch of villagers drew from the pipe, filled their buckets, and exclaimed, “I have more water!” And the crowd cheered once more. The next batch did the same, and they also exclaimed, “I have more water!” And the crowd got even more excited. Those who waited down the line were hopeful, thinking, “Since they got more water, I shall have more water”.  Batch after batch drew, until they started realizing that the water in the pool was running out, so it took longer for newer batches to fill their buckets, and longer, and longer, until finally, some batches started to have none. “You lied to us stupid leaders!”, one said. Another called them “lacking in compassion”, “corrupt for taking more water”, and still another called them “stupid shits”. 

“Fix this mess!” The people demanded. “Fix it because your are our leaders! Increase our rations of water!” 

I don’t need to finish the story, it is obvious what happens when you combine corrupt leadership, increasing entitlement, and lack of  wisdom: a cycle of increasing corruption, increasing entitlement, and decreasing sound judgement, until this cycle can no longer be supported, and all you have left is a chaotic end. 

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