Seed for Thought

What tempts us to give unsolicited advice to others? Why don’t people listen to free advice? Well, nobody likes being told what to do. So stop giving free advice! But what if you care about that person and want to share a life’s lesson with them, or turn them towards the right path? How do you make them “really” listen?

I look around and I see parents telling their grown up kids what to do. Spouses telling their each other what to do and how to do it. Friends giving advice to other friends on how to deal with relationships. In all these cases, the “advisor” really does care about “advisee” and offers his/her wisdom with the best of intensions. But again, people never listen, why?

If our mind was an island, our beliefs and principles would be the trees on it. Our advice is like a tree that has grown on the terrain of our minds. When we offer it to others, we are often trying to plant it somewhere else. We barely scratch the surface of the terrain of the other mind. And we rarely have the time or the competence to see what stones(emotional issues) and hurdles lie underneath. Thus, I find it very pointless to tell people what to do. Or stop them them from going where they want to go. Fully grown trees can’t take root and thats why people don’t listen.

Seeds on the other hand, can take root. We can plant a “seed” of advice into peoples minds. A seed of advice has to be concise and in a language the listener understands. It can be a quote or a small story. It could be a joke, gibe or even an insult. It could be a promise they once made to you. Whatever it is, it should evoke questions in the listener’s mind. It should be incomplete like a puzzle or an unfinished poem. One that’s unsettling and leaves the listener wanting more, like movie with a sudden ending. It should force the listener to conjure possibilities and wonder: “what should happen next?”

If we plant a seed right, it will bear fruit. That’s the only certainty you can hope for. It will not look the same as the tree in your mind’s garden. Thats natural and you should be ok with that. If you try to dictate the possibilities, you are altering the natural growth. For a student, the fruit parents should hope for is “become knowledgeable and excellent in a trade of your choice”. You can’t dictate the outcome to be “become a PHd. in Chemistry/ admission to IITs/Berkeley” — thats not a seed, thats already a tree.

The weight of the choice must always rest with the listener. If you have planted the seed right, the persons mind with explode with possibilities and he or she might struggle to make the choice. It is critical you leave them alone even if they ask for your help. This is when you walk away and let thoughts take root in the persons mind. It’s easier for a people to accept outcomes if the choice was theirs. I think thats the hardest part in offering advice, we often try to make choices for people thinking it will speed their recovery.

Our minds have many thoughts and convictions, like trees in a forest. As we grow older, so do the trees in our mind. Our thoughts and principles develop stronger roots. They branch out and intertwine with other trees. An self-sustaining ecosystem forms that can weather all seasons. But the same forest also blocks out the sun. A new sampling will never take root in the midst of the tall trees. If some thoughts have stayed with people long enough, or if they are too old, it might just be too late to plant a new seed for thought in their minds.

To end on a more positive note, about two years ago I saw a touching Malayalam movie: Manjadikuru “Lucky Red Seeds”. The narrator takes the audience back to a time in his childhood in a small village in Kerala. Collecting so called “lucky red seeds” were a favorite pass-time among kids and references to these seeds occur throughout the movie. I would like share the closing words, which I thought were beautiful:

Everyone likes to pick the perfect glossy red seeds
No one picks the dirty dark ones
But they are really the lucky ones
Embraced by the earth
They grow into trees to bear thousands of Lucky Red Seeds
Grandma taught me.

lucky red seeds

We owe to our loved ones and friends effort to enrich their lives with our presence. It might be worthwhile to spread the seeds of our passion and enthusiasm into their minds. You never know which ones might take root and bear more lucky seeds.