“People will not bear it when advice is violently given, even if it is well founded. Hearts are flowers; they remain open to the softly falling dew, but shut up in the violent downpour of rain.” (John Paul Richter)
A lesson I have tried to pass on to my children, which I learned from painful experience, is that the message can often be lost because of the delivery. So often in my life my best intended advice was completely obliterated because of the downpour I selected for delivery.
In the first chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie gives the very simple principle “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” This principle is simple to state, but difficult to live by. When I am harsh with my “advice”, it comes out as criticism. It doesn’t matter that I think the advice is important, or right, or true. It may be the most important advice a person can receive, but if it comes across as criticism, or condemnation, then I might as well trace the words in the sands of a beach at low tide.
No one wants criticism in their life. They may say they do, they may even ask for it. But, what they really want is encouragement. They want to be validated. They want to be reassured that they are doing the right thing. Any advice offered to even the most thirsty, open flowers of a soul, must be given tenderly and gently. The advice must first affirm the person, and what they are doing. Only then can the gentle guidance of advice be offered in a way that will be received.
The metaphor of this quote speaks volumes. If a flower is closed to the rainstorm, then the soft petals cannot receive light or water. And if the downpour is harsh enough, it can irreparably damage the flower.
When I was growing up in Northeast Ohio, my mom had crocuses in her flower bed. Every year this pretty, tender flower would poke its head above the soil as a first sign of spring. And, just as surely as it would appear, so would a hard rainstorm, or worse yet – a snowstorm. With the rain and snow the flower would be decimated. In some, rare years, the weather would stay calm for a time, and those crocuses would provide a week or two of enjoyment, and would flourish. That is how a heart can be. When a heart is open to receive, it is craving love. And any advice given must be nourishing, and never damaging.