The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 - 5:00am
Photo by Sal

The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice

When my mother went into a nursing home not long before she died, my wife and I were told that, for a modest increase in the monthly fee, the staff would provide a few extra services to improve her quality of life. We gladly paid, grateful that we could afford it.

Now in our mid-seventies, my wife and I have no imminent need for assisted living or nursing care. But the house we live in is, by definition, a two-person residential facility for the aging. Here at what we fondly call The Home, it’s not uncommon for one of us to try “improve” the other’s quality of life by offering “extra services.” Unfortunately, those services often take the form of advice.

A few years ago, my wife gave me some advice that struck me as — how shall I say? — superfluous. Remembering our experience with my mother, I said, “Could I pay a little less this month?” To this day, that line gives us a chance to laugh instead of getting defensive when one of us attempts, as both of us do now and then, to give the other unsolicited and unwanted “help.”

Advice-giving comes naturally to our species, and is mostly done with good intent. But in my experience, the driver behind a lot of advice has as much to do with self-interest as interest in the other’s needs — and some advice can end up doing more harm than good.

Last week I got a call from a man who’d recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He’d emailed his bad news to a few family members and friends, one of whom had come over right away. “How are you feeling?” his friend asked. “Well, as I said in my email, I’m feeling amazingly at peace with all this. I’m not worried about what lies ahead.”

The friend replied, “Look, you need to get a second opinion. At the same time, you should start exploring complementary medicine. You should also sign up for a meditation program, and I know a good book that can get you started down that path.”

I asked my caller how that response had made him feel. “I’m sure my friend meant well,” he said, “but his advice left me less at peace.”

I told him I’d have felt the same way, and offered this image: Imagine that I need support with a serious problem, when along comes a guy with advanced CPR certification. He’s so eager to show off his skills that he isn’t able to hear my true need. Instead, he starts administering chest compressions and “rescue breathing,” even though I’m perfectly able to breathe for myself. Now I have another big problem as I try to fight off the “helper” who’s smothering me.

I asked my caller how he would have felt if his friend had simply said, “How great that you’re at peace! Tell me more.” “That would have been wonderful,” he replied. “But everyone I talked to had advice for me, including a relative who said I needed to join her church before it was too late.”

I asked how he’d been feeling recently — he said he’d been feeling afraid. “Do you want to talk about your fear?”, I asked. He talked while I listened and asked a few more questions. When we were done, he told me that some measure of peace had returned. It was a peace that had come from within him, not from anything I’d said. I’d simply helped clear some rubble that blocked his access to his own soul.

My misgivings about advice began with my first experience of clinical depression thirty-five years ago. The people who tried to support me had good intentions. But, for the most part, what they did left me feeling more depressed.

Some went for the nature cure: “Why don’t you get outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air? Everything is blooming and it’s such a beautiful day!” When you’re depressed, you know intellectually that it’s beautiful out there. But you can’t feel a bit of that beauty because your feelings are dead — and being reminded of that gap is depressing.

Other would-be helpers tried to spruce up my self-image: “Why so down on yourself? You’ve helped so many people.” But when you’re depressed, the only voice you can hear is one that tells you that you’re a worthless fraud. Those compliments deepened my depression by making me feel that I’d defrauded yet another person: “If he knew what a worm I am, he’d never speak to me again.”

Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.

During my depression, there was one friend who truly helped. With my permission, Bill came to my house every day around 4:00 PM, sat me down in an easy chair, and massaged my feet. He rarely said a word. But somehow he found the one place in my body where I could feel a sense of connection with another person, relieving my awful sense of isolation while bearing silent witness to my condition.

By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself. He was present — simply and fully present — in the same way one needs to be at the bedside of a dying person.

It’s at such a bedside where we finally learn that we have no “fix” or “save” to offer those who suffer deeply. And yet, we have something better: our gift of self in the form of personal presence and attention, the kind that invites the other’s soul to show up. As Mary Oliver has written:

“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

I leave you with two pieces of advice — a flagrant self-contradiction for which my only defense is Emerson’s dictum that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (1) Don’t give advice, unless someone insists. Instead, be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give the other a chance to express more of his or her own truth, whatever it may be. (2) If you find yourself receiving unwanted advice from someone close to you, smile and ask politely if you can pay a little less this month.

Share Post

Shortened URL


Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection



Thank you for this article, Parker. As a hospital chaplain, I have seen the healing power of simple presence and attentiveness in suffering. Next time someone asks me what chaplaincy is about, I may just send them this article.

This hospital chaplain thought the same thing.

When it seems a person has given up, it's hard to believe that "less is more," but I can think of at least one time when I gave advice instead of this deeper kind of love. I desperately wanted to be healer whether my friend could participate in healing or not. I wanted to save his life. Your essay provide much food for thought.

Oh, my goodness, this is a wonderful article about the power of listening. Thank you.

Spot on! Guilty! I hope to become less of a "fixer".

Me, too! Thank you.

Me too. There is an AA slogan; "We don't have relationships, we take hostages."

Receiving unsolicited advice is my own personal bugaboo, and yes, sometimes I'm particularly good at giving it. It's such a strange conundrum because you Know the intention of the person offering unsolicited advice is good and they 're "only trying to help", and yet almost invariably I feel the worse for having received it. I find it hard to be polite or magnanimous in such moments as I feel acutely not only the story I've just told, but how terribly unseen I now feel, along with the feeling that I have to "save" the person from my unhappiness, which is now targeted directly at them. What a difficult position. In addition to my original physical or mental suffering that I shared in an attempt to be honest, seen, and better connected, I then feel more poorly connected, and less willing to risk speaking my truth in the future lest it again engender unsolicited advice type of response. Thank you so much Parker for speaking to this problem which to me seems big, and to which so little attention has been given. Also, the Mary Oliver quote is perfect. Thank you!

Thanks for saying what I couldn't figure out how to say!

Exactly! Being brave enough, vulnerable enough to speak our pain only to be faced with the other's thought that we need to be "fixed", or we are some how grieving "wrong". Such arrogance, especially when the advice giver has never been in our circumstance!

It's very difficult indeed to access the other person's intention when you're being given advice that you don't have capacity or need for. At the same time, I do think it's possible to try to refocus the conversation by saying, "I imagine that it's difficult for you to see me suffering. What I really need now is for you to just be with me. Would it be possible for you to save your advice for another time, when I ask you for it?"

Thank you for the beautifully-worded response to unsolicited advice!

Absolutely brilliant! How much of our immediate desire to “help” with advice is actually the desire to escape from the presence of pain? Thank you.

There is a part of me that says YES, this rings truth yet there is also another part that beleive that I MUST do something, feeling responsible because of the WHAT IF that cries out from the fear of not doing enough. When it's your Partner that is in this state of being, it's not easy to let go of that desire to help. Thank you for putting in words what I feel is important to know. Stepping back, opening to other possibilities, other healthy relations brings some comfort not advice.

I also know that almost overwhelming urge to do something - ANYTHING to help a beloved person - or even someone I've never met. The heart just goes out of it's own accord. What I find helps me at these times is prayer or intentional thinking or activity with their well-being in mind. I have a friend who plays music while thinking of her friends in need and I've learned from her. I say a prayer for that person, acknowledging that perhaps their healing is in hands other than mine... but when it isn't THAT serious... well, I guess I do give advice. Hope folks remember to ask me if they can pay less this month!!

This is the person I strive to be. Thanks for giving listening and non-judgemental attitudes a voice in this writing. As a 5 on the enneagram, I am not as prone as many to be a helper, but I have had to work very hard to be compassionate and respectful of others. Life is a journey and a post such as this is very valuable for me!

Thank you for this beautiful article. As a dementia caregiver I have at times been inundated with advice -- and learned what NOT to do to support someone else. In the past three years I have also become increasingly involved in circle work, using a talking stick, and, for me, one of the most important disciplines I could encourage has been the art of listening along with the art of simply being present. No words required.

Your books changed my views about my vocational paths importance...

Thank you, again. Years ago I was told by my brother, "No advice, is better than bad advice". This was his response when I asked him for help with something and he humbly said he didn't know enough about what I was asking to direct me. It startled me. He's a very wise guy and I look to him for help often. He also used the same "No advice, is better than bad advice", when I was trying to suggest some things that might help him. It wasn't an insult to my efforts, but more of the "a little less please" that you use here in this piece.
Your article here kind of softens the edge of this little phrase. I use it daily. I quote it almost as often.

My ability to remain with what is present for another is dependant on my own ability to be present for what is uncomfortable in me. If I am uncomfortable with silence and just being with myself, I will be unable to do this for others. Thank you for this lovely reminder. As we each become more present with ourselves, our own deep emotions and fears, we will be able to be present for others. Now..if I can just recommend a book...

Deep listening is the most therapeutic thing we can do. That is truly being present. We cannot hear your message too often. Thank you for this most helpful article.

I have been attempting for several months through Quaker Friends to find a way to contact you and ask some very specific questions about your experience with clinical depression. This article answered some of those questions. Yet, the one that it leaves out is the answer as to how you returned to professional viability after these profound periods of debilitation. Perhaps you could elaborate in a future article how you managed that and that might likely provide some insight to others how to do the same. Many do not experience the good fortune you appear to enjoy of returning to full financial and professional accomplishment. It's clear to me that I don't need advice. Yet, your full presence and attention to the curiosity of others that have faced the same challenges clearly can be helpful.

Thanks for your question, Ladd. I hope I can say something that will be of use. Depression is a very complicated subject, and there's much we don't understand about it, but I'll do my best. In my book, "Let Your Life Speak," I devote a chapter to my experience of depression (it's titled "All the Way Down"). Early in that chapter, I wrote this:

"My only real fear about publishing these reflections is that someone may take the wrong counsel from them. Depression comes in many forms. Some are primarily genetic or biochemical and will respond only to drugs; some are primarily situational and will respond only to inner work that leads to self-knowledge, choices, and change; some lie in between. Though I needed medication for brief periods to stabilize my brain chemistry, my depression was largely situational. I will tell the truth about it as far as I am able. But what is true for me is not necessarily true for others. I am not writing a prescription -- I am simply telling my story. If it illumines your story, or the story of someone you care about, I will be grateful. If it helps you or someone you care about turn suffering into guidance for vocation, I will be more grateful still."

Everyone's story is different, as you know. But for whatever they're worth, here are some facts about mine. I've made three deep-dives into depression, two in my 40s and one in my 60s. All of them went on for months, and all of them took me largely out of the action vocationally. But since I've worked independently for many years as a writer and traveling teacher, I was able to negotiate that part of the vocational challenge more easily than someone who's at the mercy of an organization. Of course, I had to miss some writing deadlines and cancel some speaking trips, but because I had savings to fall back on, things worked out.

Teaching and (especially) writing is very therapeutic for me. So I've been lucky that an important of my vocation can actually help me work through personal challenges, as most of my books will attest. I'm not talking about writing while in depression, something I couldn't do. But writing and teaching about it when I'm NOT in it helps keep healthy.

In all three experiences of depression, I've done "conventional" things like seeking medical help via antidepressants and seeking self-understanding through "talk therapy" -- I've found the Jungian version especially helpful. But a lot of what I did during the months when I was "underground" involved no more than slogging along, trying to put one foot in front of the other day by day. Some experts say that most depressions will lift, given time. I doubt that that's true for all depressions, but waiting it out certainly helped me -- as did using energy whenever it came along to do small but life-giving things, like riding my bike, balancing my checkbook, etc.

I should also mention a book edited by Tami Simon in which I was interviewed at length about my depression. It's called "Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey Through Depression" (from Sounds True Publishers, 2015) and is available on Amazon. You'll find a number of good interviews on the topic in this book. And Krista Tippett did an On Being interview on the subject with Andrew Solomon, Anita Barrows, and me. A number of people seem to have found it helpful. There's a link to it right under the second photo in the blog post above.

Again, I hope you'll find something useful here, Ladd. Please know that I'll be holding you and your journey in the Light.

Thank you, Parker. I read Let Your Life Speak years ago. I no longer have my copy as it was lost in a move, but from my vague recollection I was still wondering about the things we've addressed in this exchange when I read the chapter years ago. I thank you for your candor and kindness in responding so openly about the means you employed.

Thank you for informing me about Darkness Before Dawn. I will seek it out, as well as the interview that Krista did on the subject. I love her work and I'm grateful for her podcasts to which I subscribe. It is rewarding to have a resource of positive inquiry and learning from our fellow sojourners. I'm ever grateful for the work that you and others do to this end.

I love to teach and write also. I hope to one day make an authentic, but discreet contribution to this subject matter that would not wound the hearts that traveled with me through the situational elements of the journey through depression.

I thank you also for acknowledging that each journey also

My reply was incomplete when I inadvertently hit save. To finish the thought.

I thank you for reacknowledging the individual nature of each journey and your desire to avoid writing a prescription for others. Yet, you have succeeded in being present and attentive to my curiosity in a way that honors the very spirit of your theme and intent in this article.

Holding you in the Light as well, peace.

Such good "advice" & great reminder that when someone is suffering and we desperately want to ease that pain, and rescue them or cannot think of anything to say. A lovely book I return to is " How Can I Help?" By Ram Das. There are some lovely teaching stories in it. Ram Das himself has spent many years just being with the dying - especially at the height of the AIDS catastrophe when many young men were alone & abandoned.
Thank you !

Absolutely love this...sitting in peace and accompanying a person who is suffering by being able to listen to what their heart truly needs and perhaps by truly saying nothing...I love the wisdom from Rachel Raomi Nemen too about being a generous listener....if we could just sit it the white space of ambiguity and pain and not have to fill it up with advice, so we can feel better and just focus on the "other" instead. My intention is truly there on this but as recovering fixer, it will take practice. Thank you so much for helping me down this path

Thank you for this. As a mother of a young child who went through cancer treatment, I have been on both sides of this at the same time. As I desperately wanted to "fix" my son's pain, fear, depression, anxiety, hopelessness and everything else that reared up during those years, every day was a minefield of very well-intended, well-wishers, full of advise for me. I was in extreme emotional pain for my son, and had no one to just sit with me and soothe my soul. My pain was too uncomfortable for most; and my son's pain was unbearable for me. I wish I had possessed the strength and awareness then, to have been my son's soul-soother.

One mother to another: although my situation was different, the dynamic was the same: I just didn't know enough to soothe my child adequately during a time of great sadness. Let's hold peace for one another - and for all parents who had to face unconsolable children beyond reach of our skill.

I am an advice giver to my grown grandson. I see things I don't feel are right, so I (way too often) open my mouth and out comes blah blah blah. I've tried to tone it down, and I have to an extent, but I'm still too much of a busy body. I am so glad to have stumbled on this article today. Thank you.

I volunteer with The Oncology Units at two local hospitals.
My approach is everyone has a story to tell so I listen.

Such a wonderful piece. I volunteer as a facilitator for grief groups, and listening is the most important piece of my work. Deeply, attentively, allowing for silences and knowing when a question interjected might be a good idea. Advice is quickly and gently stopped; we ask the group to always speak from the I, from their own experience. The participants slowly move from despair to hope a they feel safe and heard by us and each other...the power of deep listening is remarkable.
It's harder to do in my day-to-day life, with family and friends, but I am getting better and better and I see my relationships growing deeper. When I really feel the need to interject my own thoughts into someone else's issue, I blatantly ask them if they want my "opinion". And if they say no I don't give it. That works for me.
I loved this article paired today with the one on civil conversations....perfect. Thank you!

Thank for your article! You have captured the frustration and challenge I've faced this last year after being diagnosed with a nerve disease. I am in intense pain and have been unable to wear a shoe for over 18 months. I get all kinds of suggestions for treatments and doctors and alternative techniques - but no one has asked me if I want to talk about the pain. In fact last week was the first time a doctor (and I've seen several of them) asked me to describe the variety of pain sensations beyond rating it on a useless scale of 1 - 10. We can support our loved ones so much better when we simply listen. There is healing in sharing the burden.

The best friends are those who listen with an open heart, open mind and open ears. (ie: closed mouths!) For the times in my life that I have actively sought advice, it has been with those who are the best listeners. They have known enough to be still and let me find my own answers.

Thank you...especially for these words:

Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

Aye, there’s the rub. Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. Witnessing and companioning take time and patience, which we often lack — especially when we’re in the presence of suffering so painful we can barely stand to be there, as if we were in danger of catching a contagious disease. We want to apply our “fix,” then cut and run, figuring we’ve done the best we can to “save” the other person.

Plus your closing 2 pieces of advice


I received so much "help" from my family that I had to move 500 km to save myself. Nobody thought about listening. I was given things (encumbered, really) - all of which, except for one, I had no use for. I was told that all my aspirations were "unrealistic" and should be given up. Choices were imposed, through manipulation and coercion, for 'my own good'. I faced anger and ostracism - at a time when I most needed support- when I set boundaries. Getting 'help' and advice turned into an awful nightmare. I'm lucky I got out alive from the experience.

Yes, yes, and yes! This is perfect. Truth delivered with a bit of humor. Thank you for your skillful articulation of important "advice"!

I finally cried. That's a good thing!
I have been isolating for quite some time with mind numbing depression. The kind where no one is welcome because I can't face the living. The words on the page soothed my mind and cracked my heart open just enough to feel the warmth of life light coming in.
Thank you for your candor, humor and insight.

Thank you so much for your reflection. I have children and a husband with depression, anxiety, and several other manifestations of highly intelligent brains. I will work on listening rather than fixing.

Can we all maybe get over ourselves and just recognize that other people are genuinely trying to care? Do we really have to dig this deep and get this nitpicky in order to find yet another reason to be offended? I really don't want to walk through life on eggshells. When someone gives me unsolicited advice, I assume the best of that person and just move on.

If we could just move the focus away from ourselves for a hot minute, maybe we'd realize how narcissistic it is to demand everyone communicate with you in the way you personally receive messages.

But David, isn't the problem that the person receiving the messages is not really in a healthy enough place to do what is healthy that you assume the best and move on? That would, indeed, be great, and that is what I usually do, but it is not what I always need. I love this article because I am a "fixer," and especially used to try and "fix" my gay son. I learned to listen and need to do much more of this with my children.

People don't want advice- guys- like me want to fix things, get it over with and never want to feel uncomfortable about things that are seemingly out of control. It's s way of "managing" the world. " You know what you should do," is something most people don't want to hear. If someone asks me for SPECIFIC advice- "do you think colonoscopies are important ?" then I would give my opinion which may be a form of advice.

I remember a lesson of Al-Anon, one I treasure, is that we should never "should" on each other. Advice needs to come from a "this is my experience" viewpoint. I still wince when I hear anyone say, "You should ..." And I remember Elisabeth Kubler-Ross saying that the most important question we can ask a dying person is "What can I do for you?"

Great article and advice, I would like to continue paying a little more.

My my, what an eye opener... I feel that because he is my son, I have to give him advice,even though he is 40 years old... Something really struck me inside, thank you. For sure we don`t do that to harm them, but to help but when reading this from the other point of view, it makes such good sense that I`m not helping at all, just the opposite. This is a real "ah ! ah !" moment ! First time ever that I completely realize that I`m not listening properly, from the heart. Thank you so much for helping me

This is the best article on attentiveness and companionship I have read! It is so difficult to just "sit through" someone else's pain, but so helpful to them. Thank you for articulating this.

I lost my son shortly after being born almost 2 years ago and I can tell you that these words are the absolute truth.

I don't want to hear that my son is in heaven/in a better place/is still with me/to keep being strong/that my redemption will come/that talking about my son makes people uncomfortable. Ugh.

All I want is for someone to just be present. To actually 'hear' me without offering any kind of fix or solution or platitude. Someone that won't flinch when I share a thought about my son Palo. Someone who can offer a gentle hug when the rough days descend.

Being present is truly the most incredible 'present' someone can offer a suffering soul.

The human soul wants to be witnessed. Thank you

reverence. Use reverence to hold on to the world and everything in it. For now. until someone asks for something more. Like a piece of Apple pie. then hold the apple pie with reverence as you hand it over...

Beautifully insightful, heart-full, compassionate content. Thank you, Parker. My newly self-published book, Vigil: The Poetry of Presence is so related to this. I've been meaning to send a copy to Krista. Poetry written related to sitting vigil with dying individuals. Great response to it. I've been busy doing readings! Advise me if I should send her a copy.... Grateful for your beautiful writing.... Pam MacPherson

This is so right on. Thank you for articulating the importance of deep listening and the unintended harm advice-giving can create. I'm going to save this in my collection of special essays.

I'll be saving this article also....!

Something opened up. ❤️

beautiful thought provoking - thank you!!!

you touced my heart and gave words to my feelings of resistance and annoyance. On the hand towards other people by being stuck with an opinion and on the other hand feeling rejection towards myself for helping people that donot want my help (and me getting anoyed over this ;). I remember being at my fathers bedside when he was dying and all he needed was acknowledgement for leaving and me holding his hand, touching it with all the love. I felt more deeply connected than we had ever been.
Thank you for sharing, eternally gratefull.

Thank you for your words. I spend a lot of time 'helping' others, in many ways, and so often it is the experience of enabling a person to be heard that is profoundly healing. Other forms of helping I engage in are with the permission of the person who I am working alongside (for that is what it is - walking alongside another for a while on their journey, sharing a path for however long that might be). Always a privilege to be able to be witness to the deep soul journey of another human being. Holding a space of listening can be very uncomfortable for the listener, which is why, I feel, people often move out of that listening to offer advice. In listening things can many times come up for us, and it can be difficult to remain as a listener to the other, at the same time as listening to the self and agreeing to attend to the discomfort at a later time (enabling the self to continue listening to the other person in that moment).

I listened to advice from a daughter last night (well, I did in between holding the phone out and checking that she was still going on!)
I know she means well, but I have to work out what I am doing in my own way. This morning, I took all the papers off the top of my lounge, plumped the cushions and sat and silently watched the clouds through my window. I felt at peace and felt confident in myself to deal with life and ask for help when I need it. Thank you for reminding me that I have probably done what my daughter did to me. The 'Older", maybe wiser me is learning to zip my lips and just listen.

Have not seen the new movie out The Meddler- about mother and daughter: and the mothers major control issues--

Tears streaming beautiful lesson on life. Thank you

Wow. What a beautiful article and such a profound topic. This resonates with me so much. I truly believe there is no greater gift for both yourself and to give another then to bear witness to their story. To stand strong in your own presence and be a witness to another is really everything.

I am a hospice Chaplain and ACPE Supervisor. Parker Palmer's words have always spoken to me in profound relates. I remember first being exposed to his writings in seminary. Almost everything he says is something with which I agree and try to teach to others practicing ministry. Thank you for sharing this. Please continue to offer these reflections for others. It is indeed a ministry.

Dear Parker Palmer,
Always eagerly looking for your column,I started my day with reading your writing and some of the reflections of others.
And I thank you !
The depth of your sharing moves me deeply.
During my years as a chaplain,being with the sick and dying elderly,and with their families I experienced so often the healing power of just presence and listening with my heart.
Staying with my own pain and suffering experiences over the years,long enough,living it instead of suppressing my own reality
or escaping it helped me several times moving through it and seeing the light again.
I will spend more time rereading your column, and the reflections of so many.
And thank you,Parker especially for your response to Ladd.
And for all the resources you call our attention to.
These days I find myself often being approached by younger people in my parish community,who struggle with depression.
Your article will be shared with others ,it truly is such a gift !

Presence is truly the best gift on any journey of seeking, healing, or suffering. Sometimes the best fix is to live into the experience and all we need is a companion in order to witness our transformation.

I love how accessible you have conveyed the need for all of us to be seen and heard when we are in our most difficult times - and how uncomfortable it is for so many in our society to sit with us. I have always felt the true definition of love is being present and seeing/hearing someone else. Not that giving advice is not loving, it is just a defense mechanism of not knowing what to do, say, or ability to watch someone suffer. But if you want to be and give love to another in their time of need, just be present and listen. And if they ask for advice or help, then is the time to roll up your sleeves...

Great article, and one that I will pass on to friends and colleagues.

Thank you!

The less secure I am, the more I want to fix and help. Intrinsically on my worst days, believe that I must bring more 'value' to the relationship than merely my presence. The more connected I am to God and sense of my own purpose, the less is my need to fix. The fixing is often for myself mixed in with compassion. Real compassion w/o my insecurities can be a much more calming presence for everyone. Thank you for the beautiful reflection and words of wisdom, Mr. Palmer.

Phenomenal words, thank you!

Professor and Episcopal Priest , Barbara Brown Taylor has shared words which was brought to mind when i read this piece by Parker Palmer. I always remember her words with I am with someone who is "raw" with grief. "Grief needs time drink the full bitter cup of loss. Grief needs time to thrash on the floor and howl, if you try to pick it up too soon it will bite you. Sometimes is best to just register your presence, keep you mouth shut and wait."

Thank you. The advice on not giving advice, but being present, is priceless. Well worth heeding.

A well written sharing. Thank you. Some while ago I did some counselling training in the UK, where I live. Sadly I have not yet finished it, but this is very close to the 'Person Centred' approach of Carl Rodgers, which was part of my training. Some variance but close. I like that you do acknowledge that sometimes people will ask advice & I have found that if I refuse to give any, they are not comfortable. I usually try not to give advice (I am no expert - who is?) unless it is 'pushed' for several times. Mostly, as with Rodgers thinking, I just try to 'reflect back' what is in their own words - affirmation that they have an answer that suits them. Even when they do not realise that they have given this 'advice' to themselves they seem to sub-consciously know it is 'theirs' and relax. In hearing their own inner/ unacknowledged (by them) ideas voiced, they also know you have listened, fully, not just heard what you expected/pre-decided you would hear (another weakness of us helpers types). When there really is nothing I can reflect (rare but it happens) I will offer three possible things, trying to give a reasonable spread of ideas with the aim of prompting them to explore these & in comparing my ideas (which I hope they will at least partly reject) they often come up with their own. My ideas are prompts, not solutions. Sometimes I even deliberately put in one that I know they will react strongly against - though with care because if they are in the 'wrong place' they might latch onto it, with disastrous results. Thanks again for this wonderful article. It has reminded me to review what I do. It is so easy to slip back into old habits of 'helping'!

We have living with us my wife's 45-year-old daughter and her two 8-year-old children, both with special needs. She has been with us while she has gradually come up from a very dark place and is hoping to become self sufficient again. The public school the children are attending is not meeting their needs at all. I have a solution she cannot see in the private school for special needs children at which I used to teach. All she can see is trying to protect them from everything including their teachers and that's very frustrating for someone "who has her answer." Your advice is timely and probably the best I could do for them, "be fully present, listen deeply, and ask the kind of questions that give [her] a chance to express more of [her] truth." Thanks for helping to slow my emotional freight train.

A beautiful article ... I have seen the benefits of not giving advise, in volunteering for a centre for depressed and despairing . But none of my experience helped me when a young man close to me went through depression. It's so instinctive to provide the cover, to try and sort out the issue and think we are bringing relief to the other , while all the time we are just feeling relieved ourselves. It is painful to be present to others' suffering and it takes a lot of our inner resources to just BE!! Thank you for this wonderful insight which has brought timely thoughts on ways to be attentive.

Such words of wisdom. I was blessed to have been my sister's caregiver as she was dying of cancer. It allowed us to spend countless hours together, sometimes talking or laughing or crying, but very often just sitting quietly together, holding hands as we listened to music or silently prayed. Those moments were priceless.
When it was over and she was gone, I found that the one thing which brought the most comfort to my splintered heart was to be allowed to tell the story. Those who were willing to sit and listen as I told the story of that painful journey, sometimes telling it to them several times over the years, are the ones who I now see as the most instrumental in my healing.
Ten years have gone by now since that best friend left my side, and still I find the need within me to tell the story, to release some of the pain in words to someone who is willing to listen, willing to laugh with me, cry with me, hold my hand in silence. I've never found myself offended by someone trying to give me advice, but rarely do I find the advice helpful. What helps is to speak of the love I still have in my heart for my sister and to have someone hear me as I share that love through the memories I carry.

I am so guilty of this - the great fixer. I just had a girlfriend tell me that when she calls to talk about a problem that I get straight to the point where as she wants to dance with it for a while. My need to fix, have the right answer is so about my own self esteem and worth. I am impatient because I can't stand or don't want to feel the pain the other person is going through, and also I believe that I know that it might touch on the deep seated pain I have inside of myself and that I can not process it. Oh to just Listen and be quiet a skill I have to cultivate.

When I was deciding to have surgery for back pain, friends asked, have you got a second opinion? (And then would offer their solutions.) My partner retorted: we have too many opinions. That's the problem!

Thanks for the Mary Oliver quote. Explains the value in a difficult job I am doing.

Parker - I think of myself as a "chronic helper" so this really does speak to me! I read somewhere recently that "listening softens the world" and I do agree. And, of course, I do the advice thing for free, which makes it even more self-serving at times! Love your paying less metaphor! I'll try to keep remembering that! Thank you for being, again!

I have in my office the following statement: "So much of our work is just sitting with people and holding their pain. Not taking it away or trying to erase it, but acknowledging that it exists."

Thank you for your reflections. I agree that too much unsolicited advice can do more harm than good and that our patients are better served when we listen to them attentively. People usually just need to talk and usually are capable of deciding on their next steps. However, after twenty years of chaplaincy, I have become more directive and am at the point where, if someone asks me directly, "What should I do?" or "I don't know what to do next," I will tell them what I think. More often than not, the recipient is grateful for the advice. Also, please note that the quote from Emerson should read, Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." "Foolish" is an important qualifier.

So true! I learned this lesson when my parents died 6 month apart. Hold a hand, rub a foot, massage a leg...

Very nice article. In Compassionate Touch, a massage course I took ,being "presence "was the main issue emhasized.
I understand what you mean about giving advise and being a do- gooder. It appears to be habitual I guess because this is the Information Age. Also, isn't it nice/ or important, to feel( in a strange way) you're "right" and that you can help!!!
I use to feel like a real" phoney".But ,I now realize that giving and /or receiving "comfort" was a real challenge for me. Thank you :-)

May we all be witnesses.

"Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.

Speaks volumes. Thank you for sharing it so eloquently

Well done. Insightful.

Convicting; must share with Stephen Ministry group; though a seemingly anti-advice giving article, much needed advice (wisdom) given~ thank you, Parker, for your offering; affirmation to "Be(ing) still"...

"The soul is shy" (Parker Palmer). The soul responds to an invitational approach where whispers of evocation can be offered in awe and wonder ...

"The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed" - thank you Parker Palmer

As a mental health nurse in the current managed-care system, my job is to get "outcomes" -- to change people so that they cost the system less money. My own secret mission (not so secret now I guess) is to hold hope and bear witness to the long years of suffering so many of my "clients" endure -- I feel so grateful to be here doing this. Sure, if they want to go for a walk in the sunshine I'll go too.

Once when I was sitting with my late Mother at table I said: I feel depressed. She said nothing but I felt better.
My Father who suffered from heavy depressions when he would visit me he would say: I feel so depressed. By the time he left I could sense that he felt better. Only once did he leave in the same condition.
I am not a good listener but I do try and I have found when I do succeed to listen without judgement or evaluation that the result can be remarkable. Listening is so important and so difficult.
I also found that it did not help me when I was praised without being seen as I was. I longed to be seen and I found out that some people could not stay in the presence of another person's suffering.

This is a wonderful reflection and states so clearly what I have known to be true but have never heard it so well put. Thanks so much. It is so helpful to have this reminder of how to be with others helpfully.

This is a wonderful reflection and states so clearly what I have known to be true but have never heard it so well put. Thanks so much. It is so helpful to have this reminder of how to be with others helpfully.

Thank you so much for this article. It is a topic I have been thinking about for sometime, as I come from a family of chronic helpers / rescuers and advice givers. So I struggle to not give advice myself, but have also been on the receiving end of unwanted advice that has felt suffocating. I also experienced but a long period of clinical depression and am now gratefully on the bumpy road to recovery. Your account here and the kindness shown by your friend Bill has moved me to tears. I had plenty of advice givers, and could have done with more regular "present" companions, however your words also reminded me of those people who did just sit and be with me when they were able, so thank you again. Hence the tears - I am very grateful to them, it certainly helped me survive too. The suggested response to advice givers is also most helpful - I will give it a try.

Thank you so much for fleshing out something that I have had warming and growing inside of me for several years, most especially after my son passed away. I struggle not to lash out at people who offer unsolicited and unwanted advice, particularly my wife. I know I will read and reread this post often, as the need arises.

Thank you for a deep and sensitive post. This is very touching and wise...lovely...

This is beautiful writing, and pretty sensible advice about not giving advice. Most of the time I would agree with it. But in the last two years I've had two friends commit suicide. In both cases I believe that I or someone else could have made a difference and not necessarily just by listening. It is natural to feel anxious and to desperately want to help when something bad happens to someone. Sometimes this can lead to direct intervention in another persons life. Most of the time people do not do these things in order to look good or impress other people, they do them because they want to prevent a person they care about from harming themselves or others. Sometimes people are in a state where they can't see beyond the hole that they are in and they need a helping hand to reach in and pull them out . People can sometimes be good intentioned but clumsy with their assistance and make matters worse. On the whole, I trust that when we feel anxious and concerned about a friend or a loved-one, there may be a good reason to follow through on these feelings, where-ever they may lead.

Wise advice.

I agree completely. I try to practice a ministry of presence. Active listening is a fairly draining process and requires total attention. In hospice and hospital settings, the patient will unburden his/herself at their own pace. My job is, as taught in Benedictine Spirituality, is to listen "with the ear of my heart".
Thank for your inciteful article.

I was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma metastasized. I have been through most of the tests. I am a hospice and palliative care chaplain. I was diagnosed a long time ago with depression, anxiety and anger issues. I have not told very many of my family and friends about my diagnosis. I have accepted it. I have declined aggressive treatment. I have faith that God will give me the number of days He wants me to live. My husband had chronic pain throughout his body. He sits around crying in pain and sleeping most of the day and night. I want more quality in my life right now. But he does not understand that I just need him to hold me. My service dog, Bandit, knows when I am hurting and he crawls up on my lap and loves me. I wish my husband would just hold me at times.

This is so true between parent and child. Parents need to teach less and be more. The parents truth is not the child's.

I loved this article. It brought many experiences to mind. I have tried to be a listener all my life. Some people want advice just so they can reject it and do the opposite. Most, including myself, do not want advice. We just want a good listener and a friend. Finding that kind of friend has been a lifelong quest. I have still not succeeded.

Mostly I agree with this article. Always listen first, for as long as the person needs you to listen. But if you truly know something concrete that could be helpful, NOT to share that isn't being a friend, I don't think. You might ask first if they'd mind if you shared something. I had some severe health issues and was diagnosed two years ago with things the doctors wanted to drug me up heavily for, but someone suggested a couple of books for diets for autoimmune diseases that (after nine months) reversed the disease into remission (and no drugs anymore). I will always be grateful for that unsolicited advice. There are so many sources of help out there, and everyone can't know about them all. Sometimes others know about resources that we'd be wise to check out.

Much wisdom, humor & humility, as always. Thanx so much, Parker. You are such a blessing.

"Many of us “helper” types are as much or more concerned with being seen as good helpers as we are with serving the soul-deep needs of the person who needs help. "

I am a helper type and have never cared if anyone saw me be a helper. I also have done both kinds of helping--active and inactive, i.e. present. Then, in my experience, many people that I have helped have come up to me afterwards and said how much I my advice helped and how much better they felt after talking with me. Are they being dishonest or merely polite, or can a helper/adviser truly do some good?

I am a retired hospice chaplain. My work was not to 'lead' a conversation, guess what the person/s would say next, or make assumptions of what they were thinking or feeling. Chaplaincy work was an utter privilege to do. The ideal was to study each person as "a living human document' as the founder of chaplaincy described it. Buddhism helped me, too, that I was able to put myself and my 'agenda' aside, to be open what might be said, and cultivate compassion/loving kindness.

Parker's book, "Let Your Life Speak" influenced me greatly, too, especially that story of being so depressed that having his feet massaged was the one way he could begin to feel pleasure again, an easing of the self-judgments, perhaps, that kept the depression in place. As a student in theology school I found this a powerful story of service, of giving of oneself (the massager) to someone who will benefit from quiet, healing touch. No shame is implied in being the recipient.

The other part of that book is early, when he's being groomed to be a college president and sees a hallway with paintings of all the predecessors in that role and runs away, feeling shame. I have known the shame of depression, of not being able to work, being needy, needing support, therapy, kindness. This led me to start a peer depression group at my church and the beginning of my own ministry. Parker Palmer was important as I developed the foundation of the practice of chaplaincy as I listened to others. People can wait their whole life to say the things they say to you. Active listening allows us to 'hear' a person 'into speech' and its empowering and gives the person being heard a sense of new possibilities.

I am a retired chaplain, (still a Yogini) never before at this blog. Thanks to all the responders and to Parker Palmer, whose nourishing words, experiences and patient witnessing (sigh) leave me speechless. For too blundering long, I was the family helper and the professional, before walking through the soul doorway to active listening. Still listening. Still re-viewing. Still learning.
Still, responding to an immediate need, I might simply offer to share some moments of simple, soothing breathing .

Oh my, Mary-Pat, THANK YOU!!!!!

Power stuff. I hope I will remember it the next time I'm tempted to give advise.

for work

I am humbled by this. Thank you across the miles.

Your wonderful article, Parker, took my memory back to the Kirkridge Retreat Center in the Pocono Mountains about 30 years ago. I was a participant in a workshop there, and you were one of the leaders along with Walter Wink. I will never forget your transparency as you introduced yourself before your initial presentation. You shared with us that you had been going through some tough times recently with depression and that you hoped that you could make it through the next 4 days of our
workshop together. From that moment on, you had everyone's soul and gratitude moving with you in the remainder of the days together. Thank you, thank you for the powerful gift of your presence in those remarkable days.

Al-Anon saying; "Do someone you love a favor today, leave them alone."
We're a nation of fixers, control freaks, know- it- alls, - I'm all three -
but I'm working on these in recovery. It's tough work.

It was the person who showed up at my office everyday to walk. To walk in silence day after day after my son passed away. It was the most unexpected person, who I silently named the Soul man. No questions, no expectation of conversation, no "how are you?" Simply present, each day with a gentle smile asking, "you ready?" All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Time passed with each step and so did grief. I didn't know what he was doing until much later. He knew exactly what he was doing from our first steps in silence.

This is the first time I have read your blog. There is a wonderful book for people experiencing serious medical issues. "Hard Choices for Loving People" by Hank Dunn. You can get the 5th edition on Amazon but there is a 6th edition that will be on Amazon in a few months or you can order from the publisher.
It is a small book $7 but it is a gem and very helpful. Try to get the 6th edition - you will see why this book has sold over 3 million copies.

Being a Hospice volunteer i need to remind myself i'm there for the other person. Not to fix, alleviate stress, stop the pain; but to just sit and BE with them. Great article and it helps to be reminded every so often of what our role is.

Great Insight!

I have been struggling with this for my entire time when i told a friend who I had shared a lot with that I just wanted to be heard, I wasn't looking for answers, the response i got was, that's right it is all about you isn't it? That was years ago, recently with the same person, who meanders in and out of my life, they asked about my child and I shared a brief tidbit and immediately got a response about what my adult child should and shouldn't do, what is universally accepted and what is not....i was angry and irritated at that person, but did let it go....sometimes i want to shout that L I S T E N and S I L E N T are spelled with the same letters....a lesson for everyone!!

I was my mom's caregiver last year before she passed, and it was hard to get past the wanting to fix things and save her. Hardest thing ever, and I'm blessed I could be there. Same for my dad. Also, I post on social media for the author of Taming Your Gremlin, where one aspect of the process for quieting the mind is to 'simply notice' and 'make feeling a peace a number one priority'. It occurs to me with your article that while we're learning to give ourselves the space to not try to fix anything, we could apply this to others just as well, to simply listen. I plan to continue this way of giving space for feeling at peace in my future acupuncture practice. Thank you so much for your words, I will be sharing this post many times over.

"By offering me this quiet companionship for a couple of months, day in and day out, Bill helped save my life. Unafraid to accompany me in my suffering, he made me less afraid of myself." Thank you for the witness of a quiet, courageous soul. Sometimes it's hard to see truth through the fog of clutter in our minds and hearts.

A paradox: Created, hard and heart-wired for attentiveness and attunement and existing in a noise and distraction-driven world. Thank you for the image of your friend "attending" to you - being present with you while you suffered with depression. That image comforts me when I sit with....listen another soul into being.

Thank you Parker for all the gifts of insight and wisdom over the years. If I may add something....sometimes people are so uncomfortable with the situation and their own vulnerability and fear, they resort to telling the sufferer a comparison story. As in, "when my father was diagnosed with cancer, etc. " and turn the situation around to them. As you mentioned, the self-interest aspect. That is equally difficult to be around too. I just want to scream. Maybe our compassion and listening skills might be better if taught and modeled by others and taught to our children. Perhaps If we actually did role playing in schools (where we don't learn to be active listeners; but passive ones) we'd be better friends, listeners and citizens. Thank you again for everything.

I have to say this hit home. I have a husband who is very unwell. I have to take over many responsibilities and I do feel at times he feels less then. I have a strong desire to help others. I hope to continue to grow in understanding of others needs. I feel each person has their story and many have not been fully heard. I hope that I can just hold the field at times and just show up. I came from a family of advice five sisters and my parents who all had different oponions and helpful and sometimes not so helpful suggestions. When I was first diagnosed with my illness, My parents watched everything I ate, to the point of me still liking to eat in private a lot of the time. So many strong forces telling me what I should do or didn't do enouph. Questioning my faith. It took it toll. I did go to counceling and found someone who really listened to me. Just allowed me tofindthe way. I am still doing so. I admit with my husband I have slipped into some patterns , I ended up taking care of both of my parents until they passed. What a turn around, my father had Alzheimers and I had worked in that field for 6 years so I was thankful for the experience. I had to learn to live in the moment. Let go and just let him be unless he would hurt himself. I thank you for this article it makes me stop, reflect and take note of where I am with my husbands illness. I need to listen more. Thank you!

Having received threshold training in the Stephen Minister process I read this with great respect. Now that we - my bride and I - are giving ourselves to each other continuously and have acquired our individual levels of peace and comfort, I appreciate the writing even more. We often get unsolicited advice from others. There may - most probably - will come a time when some measures beyond our individual scope of performance may be required. It seems such a day will not come unexpectedly but will come perceptually. Until then we will live as close to normal lives as our lives with Christ will support.

Breathing out
Breathing in
As One

Parker - Again, thank you for your wise words. Those re the human soul..."It simply wants to be witnessed - to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is." will be essential for me as I try and "companion" dear friends dealing with life's challenges.

This piece was sent to me by my dearest friend with the note "I always appreciate your presence". I starred it so it will never get lost before even opening it, knowing that it would be meaningful.

This is not a new concept for me, having read the same general sentiment a small number of times in the last year or two. However, my own context has changed since I last considered the idea. Triggered by the end of a relationship I wanted - perhaps clinged to - I have spent the last few months pausing, looking inward, seeking people that have a raised and intentional level of self-awareness and acceptance. I've done this through changes in how much time I spend with specific friends, activities we do, therapy, yoga, and retreats.

When I read this I think about how we not only apply this over-zealous need to "fix" to others we see in pain, we often apply it to ourselves. That sometimes a key way to address what ails us is to be present with our own emotions, thoughts, and senses. We don't need to "fix" ourselves all the time, perhaps we need to settle into what we're feeling because there is a reason underneath that feeling that we need to spend time with.

Thank you for this wonderful piece and for sharing with others.

Life is meant to be witnessed. This is a wonderful account of advice being vertical in relationships than horizontal. It makes me wonder if giving advice is just a way to say, "I know how to happy. You should too!" when mental illness pierces that shallow plane of daily well-being. I am surrounded by "helpers," and I implore them to listen. It's comforting that I'm not alone in this struggle of needing to be heard.

Thanks for this. As someone who has a chronic illness, I've found that, generally speaking, the more uncomfortable someone is with a situation, the more likely they are to offer advice...

Thank you for another wonderful article, Parker. (I enjoyed the paradoxical humor/ advice of your last paragraph. By the way, can I pay a little less this month? :) This article is particularly relevant for me. I have a wife who suffers from mental health issues and a sister that struggles with depression and alcoholism. I've listened to both of them many times and it's difficult to witness. In the past, I've tried to give advice to each of them and I agree that it doesn't work. I've found that attending support groups like Al-Anon (for family members of alcoholics) and NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) has been helpful for me.

This is a very helpful article on listening. All we have to do is remember it in order to apply it.

I agree with the importance of soulful listening-but I also can recall times that the lives of my family members have been saved by the nudging of others to -'get a second opinion', 'go into the city', 'think this through'. Often folks who may be weak and depleted resign themselves to the projected outcome because they have lost their ability to speak out on their own behalf. A kind nudge in the right direction can be life giving. Sometimes we need more than listening-we need wisdom, experience, strength and caring-and sometimes that caring may shake us from our sense of peace and acceptance of illness-and save our lives. Maybe that's what wisdom is all about-the ability to share it with others when it is needed.

And what do you do if there is no type of "helper" around, neither the advice giver nor the just present one and you suffer from depression? The only company is a package of little yellow anti-depression pills, the rest is complete isolation and clear awareness of the situation. What then?

It is such a great blessing to have a true companion, a soul listener, whose silence speaks louder than words.

I went through a divorce I did not want after a 43 year marriage last year.

I received soooooooooooo much unsolicited advice on how I should be dealing with my sense of loss.

As I posted after a family came over to my home to give me advice.

"When they came I was mildly depressed, when they left I was suicidal."

My advice to anyone who wants to help someone who has experienced a loss in their life. " Listen much, talk little."

Growing up as the oldest child and only daughter, I was encouraged and praised when I was helpful, to the point of anticipating and providing help even before it was requested. As an adult and parent and now a certified coach (what a perfect career for someone who loves helping, I thought!) I have had to unlearn my instinct to offer help and advice and to learn to hold space for others. It isn't always easy, and was especially difficult when my motherly instinct was to swoop in and rescue the kids from the slings and arrows of adolescence.

I'm going to bookmark this page for whenever I need a reminder to step back and simply witness another's soul with love and respect.

Thank you.

Sometimes I simply can't listen--to, for instance, a friend making excuses for her emotionally abusive husband--and I'm going to start saying "I really can't listen to this right now." If I can't be genuinely open, receptive, and non-judgemental, then I think it is best (for me) to not "pretend" to listen when what I'm thinking is "Shit for brains, girl. Leave the jerk."

Thank you Parker. I hope to remember this when the opportunity to offer loving help to somebody arises.

Thank you for this, Parker.

Sometimes the "advice" is solicited, but what is desired is love. Thank you for a great reminder to just love.

This poem on advice is by the forgotten Phyllis McGinley, a favourite of W H Auden.

A Garland of Precepts

by Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)
Though a seeker since my birth,
Here is all I’ve learned on earth,
This the gist of what I know:
Give advice and buy a foe.
Random truths are all I find
Stuck like burs about my mind.
Salve a blister. Burn a letter.
Do not wash a cashmere sweater.
Tell a tale but seldom twice.
Give a stone before advice.
Pressed for rules and verities,
All I recollect are these:
Feed a cold to starve a fever.
Argue with no true believer.
Think-too-long is never-act.
Scratch a myth and find a fact.
Stitch in time saves twenty stitches.
Give the rich, to please them, riches.
Give to love your hearth and hall.
But do not give advice at all.

I've read this several times, and appreciate it more each time I read it. I do try very hard not to offer unsolicited advice, and am mostly (but not always) successful. I think what's most difficult for me, especially with my son who suffers from depression, is a feeling that, if I don't say something that I think might help, and he "hurts himself," as the euphemism goes, it will be that omission that's responsible. This is probably arrogance or superstition or both...but it's real and it's my challenge to overcome.

Brilliant. Thank you

Wow such a thought provoking article, I spend time with my ageing mum who has been diagnosed with dementia. Sometimes I feel guilty just being. No more. She doesn't want advice she just wants me to be with her. Thank you

Thank you for such wonderful article. So much to learn about quiet companionship support in this loud & fixing world. I've been on both side of this: too often too fast too eager to "help", until the moment I had to learn to "forgive" all the good intention "advice" to my illness & family tragedy. Thanks again for the reflection.

When there are no words, there is a reason. A touch means more than a thousand words.


I was gifted with a year of work as a hospice social worker. I was validated for work that I had intuitively known for years, but did not have language for....."providing a peaceful presence". It is one of the most basic, life giving things we can offer each other, and one that is most often overlooked and taken for granted. Thank you for writing this Parker.

This is the very most advise in line with my soul I tried for almost a year to this day. Do you know I searched for all possible things, being alone, worried fearing as to what is the very next. I have no recources except this mobile and the internet. May god be glorified for the moment that brought me to your extraordinary article that uplifted me. Ilike it and may be read it, at least 3 times aday until I bring my self to the glory of My thought full inventive, generous past days to the present. Am 56 lost every thing I had worked for. Relatoin ships with my own wife and 4 Children, colleagues and Friends. I am agreed with my self to let nature do or take its oun cource upon me. As being demoralised, discouraged person it seemed for methe best option second to non. Dear parker,
thankYou very much for your invalueble article. May I get more to help me recover or remain at my atmost peace till my soul travel to the othe side I feel always comfortable about. Thank you very much again

Wow. These words stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps next time I will stop trying to fix situations through well meaning, but useless suggestions. Beautifully said, written so well.

Thank you for this reflection. The Emerson quote is actually "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".

i call this dynamic stealing someone's reality.

Excellent insight that makes visits at the hospital, churches or wherever so much FUN. Always leave feeling better leaving than entering since learning the secret of being present. It has been a real gift from God. Visiting a retired lay pastor yesterday was reminded of that as he shared Psalm 103 and the blessings received from it in the midst of his difficulties. He mentioned how "The JOY of the Lord is our strength." as we parted company.

I'm moved to tears by this article. Presence is the essence of connection. Just being with a person in their pain can make that pain seem less.
And 'funny' that my own experience of foot massage has had the same effect on me to the extent that I always base any massage evaluation on how my feet are attended to.

Thank you. Yet again proves the truth will set you free. News I can use. :)

This kind of attentiveness is the barest to do. Like waiting for an overdue baby.

Thanks as always, Mr Palmer! Your words, insights touch my soul.

Be present. Listen. No advice.

I found this article very interesting because it touched what I think is the main key, being seen, felt, witnessed. That is what is important for our souls. It is not the advise or the actions that we do in our lives that give peace, it is the being, (said by a super "doer")! It is being understood and accepted in our essence that gives peace. We can make mistakes and also do good things, but being seen, gives validity to who we are with a freedom to move and express our being freely. The advise puts us a bit in a box. I found the information on depression shared very helpful.
I also liked the piece about people feeling they can catch the suffering as if it is contagious!
That is exactly how I have felt when I am around a lot of suffering, I can't wait to get away from it, I am afraid it will stick on me.
Thank you for sharing deeply, and good luck

I valued your eloquent words and over as I shared with family and friends, I thank you!
One quote I read on a church's marquis: "The Tongue Weighs Practically Nothing, Though Few of Us Can Hold It"......