Not all Advice is Wise, Not all Wisdom Applies

How do you tell the difference between wise advice and wisdom that applies to you and your situation?

Think of Robert Frost’s Poem, The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
 And sorry I could not travel both
 And be one traveler, long I stood
 And looked down one as far as I could
 To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
 And having perhaps the better claim,
 Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
 Though as for that the passing there
 Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
 In leaves no step had trodden black.
 Oh, I kept the first for another day!
 Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
 I doubted if I should ever come back.
 I shall be telling this with a sigh
 Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — 
 I took the one less traveled by,
 And that has made all the difference.

Now imagine you are the hiker in the poem. But you are not alone. You have a close friend hiking with you. You are also hiking with a friendly stranger you met at the trail head.

There are other strangers. Some are ahead of you. Some are behind you.

You all have the same destination in mind.

You come to this fork in the road; your friend says, “take the one less taken.” The stranger says, “take the one well worn.”

This fork in the road is on none of your maps. On the map, there is only one trail.

All the hikers on either trail look and sound happy with their choice. At least, as far as you can see or hear.

Which way do you turn?

Your choice will impact you and your friend. No one else. That is how you tell the difference between wise advice, and advice that applies.

Consider who your choice will impact. If that person has offered advice, it is wiser and more applicable. The advice of strangers with no personal stake in which way you go may be wise, but it may not apply.

In my life, I seem to be on a path less taken. My wife is walking with me. My family and a few friends are walking with me. When I get tired or discouraged or have doubts, they keep me going forward. They all have a stake in my success.

There are strangers ahead of me, beside me, and behind me. Most are on the path well worn. This raises all kinds of doubts for me.

I am no Robert Frost. But in a moment of feeling like the hiker in that story, here is what I wrote.

Dancing on a razor’s edge;
 If I stay I bleed;
 Go forward, show greed;
 Run back, I cede;
 Turn left, be singed;
 Turn right, come unhinged;
 Show fear, how insane;
 Show cheer, how mundane;
 Arrogance apparent;
 Confidence confined;
 Storm and rancor;
 Adrift yet restrained;
 Yet God is my anchor;
 To Him I am chained;
 By a gift from my maker;
 My wife for me campaigned.

Ironically, my writing prompt for that day was “Encouraging Husband.” I wrote this poem first, and then a reflection on Proverbs 31. A few interesting things have happened since then.

  1. I have re-learned that the advice of people close to me matters more than people who care, but are not close. (should have been obvious, right?).
  2. I have been able to do a bit of public speaking because of this blog and that post.
  3. I got to develop a sermon from that post and give it at my church (click here, and scroll to the bottom of the post for the audio).

Here is the point. My wife was right. My doubts were wrong. The strangers were wrong. When might the same be true for you, in your life and situation?

The people closest to you know you in ways that even the wisest strangers do not. The wisdom of a friend is more useful than the wisdom of a stranger.

Originally published at on March 21, 2016.

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