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March 30, 2006

Wise Advice

The session started with Sreekanth sharing that his experience at work these days are like Groundhog Days (referring to the movie in which the hero relives the same day over and over).

Perhaps the initiative to change from within (so that every day and even every moment is fresh) needs some external stimulus for the change to get started. In my experience, when there are changes to the objects around me (even if they are small), I tend to come to the present. For example, once in a month, when I change the month of the calendar, there is another new picture and a quote which brings a smile to my face. That small change sticks with me for a long time making the day fresh. Other changes could be a new genre of music ever day, a new flavor or tea, a new person to disturb�

Vijay said he had been thinking about one of the topics we talked last session: Does a person lack integrity if he or she gives an advice without having experienced it personally?

This topic was interesting for everyone and we dialogued on it pretty much for the rest of the session.

Vijay first acknowledged that there is clear value in a piece of advice that comes from experience. But he felt that if a person is genuinely caring and gives an advice based on his knowledge, one cannot question his integrity. He gave the example of a Father advising his son not to smoke without having experienced the bad effects of smoking himself. He also referred to the fact that doctors and lawyers give advice all the time without any first hand experience of the issues faced by their clients.

Manju said that when a person gives advice from him experience, the receiver receives more than the content of the advice. There is another level of communication that happens at the same time between the hearts of the giver and the receiver. That would be missing in the advice that does not come from experience.

Pratibha said that listening to a story narrated by a person, even if it is not the narrator�s own story, could have the same effect as listening to a person�s personal experience.

I said that in my mind there is a distinction between information, knowledge and advice.

Information requires my interpretation to be useful. If someone says it is going to rain today and hence drive carefully, for me, it is not an advice. It is a piece of information. I may listen to it and forget it after a few minutes. But if someone narrates his experience of dangerously skidding due to rain, even if he does not ask me to drive safely, the incident would be with me.

Knowledge might convince me intellectually but it represents the end-state and does not help me in navigating my path to get there. To take Gandhi�s example from last week�s session: Let us say that Gandhi looks at the boy and tells him, �Son, stop eating sugar because it will damage your teeth and give you stomach ache.� What would happen if the boy asks, �Ok, I understand that, but what do I do when I see the jar of sugar and I cannot stop myself?� If Gandhi had not tried not eating sugar for two weeks before giving the advice (as he reportedly did), then he would not have had any point of reference to help the boy.

Advice I think goes beyond information and knowledge. It includes the what and the how not only in terms of external actions but also in terms of the internal attitude, feelings etc that go with the what and the how. A personal experience is so much richer than an isolated piece of information or knowledge. And hence it works at multiple levels on the receiver.

Having dialogued and thought about all of the above, I went home and happened to read a book Prasad had given me titled, Methods of Knowledge. In it, the author describes six types of valid knowledge according to Vedanta: Direct perception, Inference, Verbal Testimony, Comparison, Postulation and Non-apprehension. Of the six types, direct perception ranks as the most reliable, valid knowledge because it is immediate knowledge. And all the other types are mediated knowledge (that is knowledge that depends upon something other than the original source). Yet, the book has many examples that indicate that under the right circumstances, forms of knowledge other than direct perception could have as much truth and effect. The author also says that it is acknowledged by various ancient schools of thought that there are times when direct perception is not possible and inference or verbal testimony may be the only means to valid knowledge.

Besides all of the above, there is also the readiness of the receiver that plays a big role in the usefulness or the danger of an advice.

I think the usefulness of this kind of dialogue is not in the conclusions it could provide but in expanding and increasing ones awareness of all the aspects of the subject.

Think of an advice that you have received that worked well for you. Could you figure out what made that advice useful and proves the integrity of the giver?

Posted by Ragu at March 30, 2006 11:50 AM