The advice one hears is often breathtaking in its arrogance. Sometimes it is heard as unsolicited "wisdom" at a dinner party. At other times, lawyers or mediators may brag about what they believe to be valuable guidance they have shared with clients. Many times, the advice is an insult to the person at whom it is directed.
The problem with a certain kind of advice is described well in the book The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice. Here's an excerpt from the section on nonviolence:
Killing and doing physical harm are grosser forms of violence that are easily seen and understood. However, nonviolence has many subtle implications as well. ...
Violence to others
[I]t becomes easy to look outward and begin to focus on others, hiding our own sense of failure and fear under our blazing concern for others. It's almost as if we are secretly saying, "My life is a mess; I'll feel better if I fix yours." If we are not honest with ourselves, we even go to bed with a sense of pride in the amazing things we have done for others that day. We may even feel holy about our arduous feats of self-sacrifice. In reality we are hiding our own sense of self-failure by telling others how to live their lives. When we are unwilling to look deeply and courageously into our own lives, we can easily
violate others in many subtle ways that we may not even be aware of, thinking that we are actually helping them.
Thinking we know what is better for others becomes a subtle way to do violence. When we take it upon ourselves to "help" the other we whittle away at their sense of autonomy. Nonviolence asks us to trust the other's ability to find the answer ... .
The violence we do to others by thinking we know what is best for them is dramatically illustrated in a story from India. It seems a passerby witnessed a monkey in a tree with a fish. The monkey was saying to the fish, "But I saved you from drowning!" The monkey, thinking it had saved the fish, had taken the fish to a place that couldn't meet any of the fish's needs for survival or growth. We can't save people, or fix them. All we can do is model, and that points the finger back to us.
For those of us in helping professions, it may be important to frequently ask ourselves whose needs we are meeting when we advise. Of course, as experts, our advice may be extremely helpful—and often it may not. Nonviolence requires vigilance.