Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everyone's an Expert

Disclaimer: I'm about to be brutally honest but there's an apology at the end.And my own advice for you, for which as you see, I'm entitled. I'm still sorry. Please forgive me.

Cornering the Professional

It's a plague in our society, and one we ALL face, if from different perspectives.

Imagine this: you go to a summer barbecue and while you're catching up with a friend you haven't seen in awhile, you overhear a conversation a few feet away. Out of the corner of your eye you see the person being accosted is looking around desperately for a way to make a quick exit. And you notice this because you yourself have worn that same mask of polite listening while your mind has been working overtime to both listen so as to respond with gentility and yet somehow find a way to be "busy" immediately.

What's going on?

Well, the interlocutor has just found out the deer-in-the-headlights guy is a doctor and she wants some advice on a growth on the back of her neck, or maybe about her husband's club foot or her daughter's "womanly problems" (and said daughter is on the far side of the nearby picnic table wearing an expression of horror as she realizes her mother is divulging very sensitive and private information to someone with whom she now must socialize).

In fact, when she meets that doctor, to whom her mother is going to learn is single and available, she knows that doctor is going to be thinking, “Honey, you’re nice but I know WAY too much about your vagina and don’t want to live my life hearing about it from your mother!

But he’ll shake your hand politely as you blush because you BOTH know what’s really going on and you BOTH forgive each other if not your mother in that moment. And maybe you end up getting married and raising a family together in spite of all that improper personal information.

Oh, yes. We've all seen it happen, if not with the Disney ending, and we've all been on the wrong end of that scenario, (maybe not exactly, I hope!) Perhaps we've even been the offending party. (And really, I HOPE NOT and sorry guys, but that is REALLY what some mothers will do!)

Now, in that particular scenario, it is legitimate experts who are being questioned and asked to give free advice. If you're a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, an insurance broker or agent, insurance claims adjuster, or nurse (among other careers!) you're reading this and nodding along, because YOU'VE been the one trying to flee the conversation more times than you can count! In your personal life, you hear more intimate permissionless details about more people and their problems than you do in a single day at the office! Continue nodding....I know this is true. If you're NOT nodding, then you were hired only yesterday. Read this post again in a week.

In our society, expertise is highly valued, as it should be, and to be fair, most people DO respect the fact that these professionals are entitled to time off. They do NOT need to be accosted at church events, random barbecues, cotillions, quinceaneros, picnics, or while waiting in line at the grocery store. They knew, going into their fields, that their area of expertise was going to subject them to people without boundaries, but they are still human and even the greatest of experts among us need some time off before they burn out and people die because they are so stressed from never having time to be a human being that they start making bad decisions and amputate the head instead of the appendix. Or in court, maybe they'll defend a divorce instead of a murder (although there's not much difference.)

Armchair Quarterbacks

The funny thing is, though, that with all this advice-asking going around, there are also a lot of people who are sudden "experts" in any given category that simply has their interest. If Mr. Offensive Interlocultor actually got an answer from a lawyer on a complicated legal issue when accosting the poor guy at a social event, he suddenly becomes a legal expert and will pass on his incomplete advice to someone with any kind of a related issue. And thus, his unprofessional "advice" is actually quite distorted for even HE didn't get a complete answer and in fact, selectively ignored the very REAL advice of the attorney trying to get away from him, to hire his own counsel so that the case could be evaluated accurately and resolved appropriately.

Oh, yes, we all know people who fit into this category as well.

When it comes to people who are in very serious need, though, amazingly the default of most people is to limit their OWN advice and to direct that person to a competent authority for their problem. They might have names of people with whom they've had good experiences, proper professional offices or organizations and the like. They realize, even if they are usually from the advice-giver category that some things are still too big for them and in their sincere good will, they know someone else is better qualified. I find it very interesting that in these cases, those people take a step back and become champion supporters and for once, hold their tongues and ask, "what does your doctor say?" or "what does your lawyer say?" before they hop into presumption-of-personal-expert mode and start advising away.

(Flannery O'Connor might disagree with the above paragraph, but I'm trying to assume the best of people.)

I think if I were to study sociology, I'd do a dissertation on this particular social behavior encompassed in this post.

Of course, as you might expect, I have another point to make.

Vocational Experts Without a License

All of the above goes out the window or is entirely reversed in the case of vocational discernment.

If a man or woman reveals that they are discerning a religious vocation, or priesthood, even if they've done a great deal of research, have a spiritual director, a discernment group, etc., suddenly everyone OUTSIDE of those groups becomes a self-appointed expert.

Suddenly, the person or people who know the MOST about the topic are relegated to the intellectual and spiritual equivalent of an infant. People who know NOTHING about what the discerner has been through or what OFFICIAL advice they have been given and which they are faithfully following take them "under their wings" and immediately start firing off completely unneeded or even illogical advice about what they should do, where they should go, what they should be doing, the pitfalls, and even try to DICTATE specific communities or seminaries to them!

This type of advice also assumes the person's spiritual advisor or group must be fully incompetent or the person in question would already be a priest, professed religious, or 20 years married.

My dear readers, I know this for two reasons: I've experienced it repeatedly and because I blog about it, I've gotten emails and Facebook messages from other people experiencing the SAME DANG THING!

It's a PLAGUE I tell you! A plague!

What's really annoying is that many of the advice-givers will impart their lack of wisdom while pointing out smugly that "God speaks through people who know and love you!" so as to shut down any possibility that we can turn down their “obviously-perfect” expertise about something they've never actually discerned for themselves.

We who are discerning are also aware that most of our self-appointed prophets aren't actually privy to the Divine Processions, and if they were, they wouldn't all be giving advice that directly conflicts with that of everyone else and that of our own Spiritual Directors or those of similar privileged status.

I really find this to be fascinating, and really can't explain it without more study, and maybe something scientific (as opposed to pure experience/observation).

Why IS it, exactly, that, outside of the discernment of vocation, people are ASKING advice, but when it comes to this topic, they are ALL experts?

Why IS it that when a woman says she is considering religious life everyone has a favorite CARMELITE monastery?

Why is it that when she says she likes the Dominicans everyone assumes she's never heard of the Nashville Dominicans (Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia) or their offshoot, the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist? Where do you think she got her first interest in the Dominicans (given this culture)? And why can’t they understand that the fact she knows about them, she is not discerning them any longer for specific reasons?

Or of course, when she says she's discerned some Order or Congregation, the unsolicited "expert", without batting an eye, immediately begins to discuss how she should prepare to enter the local Carmelite monastery and she herself would be willing to accompany her and will arrange the entrance Mass?

Why is it that even when the discerner says God is leading her to visit a particular convent, everyone STILL suggests she check out 10 other of their favorite communities, and the first on their list is a Carmelite cloister, perhaps the one in India?

Seriously. I wish I was kidding.

 The second to the favorite Carmelites are the Franciscan communities, which often, people who recommend them don't even know whether they wear habits or not, or what their apostolate is or whether or not they are faithful to the Magisterium of have their own brand of "Catholicism".

These "experts" usually don't know the first thing about what they're recommending.

I'm sorry, but it's true. I’ve experienced nearly ALL of the above. What I haven’t, other discerners who have contacted me HAVE.

We’re not angry!!!! Please note and read on! 

We’re just exhausted from the battle to stay true to the course we’re on while fending off the improper course and timeline YOU think we’re supposed to be following.

The reality is, we suspect, is that unsolicited "experts" actually are taking an opportunity to give their own view, perhaps because they never properly discerned their OWN vocation and are trying to live vicariously through those who are. Maybe they just want to feel needed. Maybe giving advice is something they do every minute of every day and they aren't aware they're doing it.

The one thing I do find to be constant is that those who give advice DO HONESTLY CARE and unfortunately, they're also very sensitive sorts who take it personally when someone doesn't seem to want or need their advice. They will feel very hurt for a very long time if their advice isn't followed or accepted without question.

And actually, that's what makes these recent blog posts so hard. Because I KNOW that in outright refusing and even condemning unsolicited advice, I am unintentionally offending people I have no desire to offend.

But I'm not a rug and am tired of feeling like one. If that offends some people, so be it.

Discernment is hard enough without having to go around feeling like we have to defend and justify our actions, lack of actions, feelings or lack of feelings, decisions or lack of decisions at every single turn.

I feel I have to speak up on behalf of myself and EVERYONE in discernment because we're tired of being offended ourselves by people who don't seem to think that we can possibly interpret God's will for us without them. And yes, often unsolicited advice is outright offensive. And no, we don't tell you this because we love you, too, and know that your intentions are good and that you don't mean any offense either!

Again...if you've been strong enough to read this far, please know, we love you, we respect you, we thank you for your prayers and support. But please, please, please, stop telling us inane things like "stop trying so hard!" or "go to this monastery" or "give up your dog now so you don't have to find someone later" or "My niece entered X abbey, and she's happy so you would be too". And dear God, if I hear one more time of the rumor that I am delaying because I'm looking for "the prettiest habit" I think I might puke. Really; I don't care about fashion NOW, what makes you think I care about religious fashions? (Except for the habit thing; I do desire to wear a habit for I have discerned it is important. That has no bearing on what others discern...only me.)

We have certain people to whom we are listening. We have certain people who know more details, respect us enough to know we're trying as hard as we need to, and who have assured us that our agony isn't a type that needs comfort, for it is a purifying agony that a vacation with our dog or cat or a ski trip out West won't cure (especially in July when Aspen is devoid of useful snow). * dust-gathering skis...*

One more point: the people I know who are legitimate experts in things RARELY offer their advice without being asked, and if they do so, they do so cautiously and with a disclaimer. There are a few people in my life who are not in my designated set of advisors and to whom I will listen because they are "experts" who cautiously advance their advice, and are humble enough to realize I might ignore them (and that it's not personal!). In their advice, they encourage me to go to my SD, they encourage me to ignore them if their advice conflicts with anything "official", etc.

Please be gentle with people who are discerning their Vocations. If you are privileged enough to hear them express to you, through a blog or personally, that they have been or are going through a rough time, please do not minimize the experience, don’t “poo-poo” it, don’t try to “fix” it in any way.

They know where to go.

Especially in the case of “blog revelation”, know that unless you know this person directly, you probably don’t have the right to offer any advice at all. And if you DO know them personally and they haven't asked you directly for advice...well...then you're not one of the few. Sorry. Again: nothing personal. They love you. Be assured of that. 

To my friend-readers who know me personally, know that I love you and thank you with every fibre of my being and if it weren't for your PRAYERS or physical support (watching my dog, my house, driving me to the airport and picking me up, paying my mortgage for 2 months, taking my Adoration hour on the Saturdays I'm gone, etc), I wouldn't be able to focus so much on God's voice that HAS to come out of the fray.

This post is not personal. It’s not directed at anyone. And in fact, it was written on behalf of all souls, everywhere, who are discerning Vocations and have been the hapless recipients of well intentioned people who would be horrified if they knew the angst they were causing with their own “advice”.

I apologize to all my readers and my friends, whether you read this now or will find out about it in the future. I hope my honesty isn’t hurtful for anyone.
May the peace of Christ be with you, always. And please continue to support Vocations to the priesthood and religious life! Remember advice is is only hard labor that really expresses love.

Jesus made that VERY plain to us all when He suffered His Passion and died on the Cross for us. If that's not hard labor, I don't know what is!

As I recall, Jesus didn't give advice from the Cross...he was too busy living it as an example to the rest of us.

Now...go overwhelm your parish Vocations Committee  with offers to drive people to the airport, watch pets, pay debts, etc etc etc that applies to legitimate need. Prayers and ACTION make Vocations happen. Not advice.

God bless you all, and again...thank you.


Father Cory Sticha said...

One of the greatest fears of discernment is precisely the situation you describe. Word gets out that so-and-so is discerning, and they immediately become the new seminarian/novice without any consideration as to what they're discerning. It might be 3 years before a man enters a 6-year seminary program, but people in the parish are already planning the first Mass of thanksgiving.

Speaking as one who has undergone much discernment, and will be so bold as to speak for those who are discerning: Thank you for your prayers and support, but please leave the discernment to the discerner!

Anne said...

I haven't been keeping up with your posts on a regular basis, but from the overall gist I understand that you seem to be suffering from people who won't leave you alone to make your choices with the help of God and no one else. I wonder if everyone is so eager to give advice simply because they love you and are so excited for you and they want to be a part of the most important decision of your life. As with all advice, I'm sure you are always quite free to take it or leave it. I am praying for your peace of mind and soul in what is obviously a stressful time. You know that in the end, whatever way you choose to go, it is God who has already done that choosing for you and it doesn't matter what other people say. Maybe adding a grain of salt to the unwelcome advice given would give it a little flavor and make it easier to accept the words without having to actually follow the advice. Peace my friend!

Kat said...


On behalf myself, a fellow discerner, I say AMEN and Thank you and I just may steal...erm...quote heavily your post for on own blog.

Adoro said...

Father ~ Exactly, and thank you!

Anne ~ Actually, you're way off base in surmising that this is what I'm experiencing now. I actually wrote this post inspired by and in response to many people who have contacted me privately and shared their own experiences with this.

As far as recognizing the good intentions of the people who offer, not sure how to phrase this next part...did you actually read the entire post? I wrote EXTENSIVELY about the fact that I realize that and all we discerners realize that fact. Which is why we feel like rugs a lot of the time because we're EXHAUSTED and really feel quite sick from all the salt we're having to swallow all the time.

Kathreja ~ If it's helpful, then yes, use it! :-)

Brother Charles said...

This is a great rant! I pray that others who are discerning their particular religious life find their way to it for insight, relief, and a salutary laugh.

So much of the particular path to a certain religious community is about the secret life of the soul with God, in both conscious and unconscious ways. This makes everyone's advice suspect, excepting those whom the Spirit leads us to trust either because of their own holiness or intimate knowledge of us as Christians and discerners.

For many one of the unexpected challenges of religious life is that suddenly our life with God becomes a public property. This has tremendous blessings, such as the immense privilege to pray for and with the world as we stay faithful to the Hours, but it can also be challenge because everyone wants a piece of you and to impose their (sometimes uninformed) dreams and visions upon you.


Adoro said...

Anne ~ Just wanted to tag on a note that I didn't mean to jump all over you! Just want you to understand what we go through.

a regular reader said...

Just curious... where is the line between 'supporting sentiment' and advice? For example, would "pray, wait and don't rush" be considered advice? Is sharing a personal experience of your own discernment considered advice? Or are these supporting statements?

Adoro said...

Hmm...that's a good question. I think that depends on the person and goes back to some people who are "serial advice-givers" who don't realize they know they are doing it. Their idea of "supporting sentiment" is to fall back on advice giving. It's their default.

For other people, their idea of "supporting sentiment" is simply saying, "I know this is hard and I'm praying for you." and I would say that's the proper definition of that term. Others may have differing definitions so I can only speak for myself here.

As far as sharing personal experience, i.e. "This is what happened to me and how I handled it" and leaving it at that...that's not advice. In fact, I've been getting a lot of emails with personal experience and with permission I'll be posting one of those emails later so that my readers can see that truly, I'm not speaking ONLY of myself here but am truly trying to convey what we all experience!

YouKnowWho said...

you have my permission! :-) (If I had plurk's emoticon's, it would be :-P)!

Adoro said...

You know who ~ Um, last comment meant to indicate permission already received from an email from someone in discernment NOW. :-) But I'll take another look at your emails too and see if maybe there's a section that might work here...hmmm....

Banshee said...

If it's any consolation, people do the exact same thing to people whom they think should date their cousin or whom they think should marry that nice boy whom the poor date-ee cannot stand.

But there's a lot more dating than discerning going on, so the effects are spread out over thousands of victims, reducing the numbers and stress on each individual. :)

Julia said...

I have definitely witnessed a parish getting over-excited by someone's discernment. It hasn't happened to me because I try to keep things relatively quiet, but I have seen it happen with young men applying to seminary. The pressure must be incredible. What if the man begins seminary and then discerns that he is not being called to the priesthood?

Discernment is like dating. No one wants your thoughts on who you should be dating or whether or not you're going to marry the person you're dating now. :)

Anne said...

I hope too, that you remember that although you are in a unique position of discernment to religious life, others also deal with constant advice and criticisms from people who believe that they know best. As a married mother, I was told who I should marry, where we should marry, where we should honeymoon, how many children we should have, and how dare we have so many children, don't you know how they are made and how to stop them, then at the grocery store-"what are you feeding, an army? etc, etc, etc- we all get it all the time! It is not easy living your faith, no matter how you live it. I get ambushed by my non-Catholic sister all the time, I get ambushed by my sister who is more strict in her faith than I am, I got ambushed by you who didn't like my Ronald Rolheiser quote. My point is, if you let all of that stuff eat at you, it'll kill you! Enjoy who you are, enjoy your relationship with God and whatever you do to maintain and enhance that relationship. Don't let anyone's comments on what you should do bother you, including mine. Most of all, God is madly in love with you and nothing else matters! Peace my friend, with prayers...

Adoro said...

Anne ~ ROFL! I actually alluded to some of the "dating advice" in my most recent post, but didn't bring up the large family stuff. I've seen over and over with large families just the comments you're talking about. And it's shocking to me. I would NEVER consider given a mother "advice" about how many children she should or shouldn't have, etc, and can't believe anyone would!

The BEST response I ever heard though, was one I think I read on a blog. The woman in question happened to be a medical doctor, and knew very well the issues with contraception. Yet there she was with her three children while a perfect stranger accosted her and asked her if she knew about birth control, etc. She looked this perfect stranger in the eye and said, "Thank you SO MUCH for your concern with my reproductive system!"

ROFL! (Personally I love big families and hate the fact they take so much abuse!)

Hidden One said...

Three thumbs up, Adoro. (I'm borrowing one from the library. It's due back in a couple weeks but I'll renew it if you keep posting stuff like this.)

I need a bunch of sleep and prayer and such before I can give a proper response - which may be brief or silence.

Anonymous said...


Seriously, what IS it with the Carmelites? I love them, I do, but why are they the only ones anyone ever knows??? I mean, no one ever even SEES them!

Oh, yah, and "Mother Angelica's nuns." Mention them one more time. I dare you.

Great post, Adoro. LOL!

Jenny said...

In defense of those suggesting the Nashville Dominicans, they may not realize you have heard of them. :) I live in Nashville and grew up in Nashville and I hadn't heard of the Nashville Dominicans until I was nearly thirty! All that was on the other side of town, ya know. That's a sad thing to admit.

People do need quit with the unsolicited advise. I currently have two children with youngest about 20 months, so it is getting to be time for the next one. My father-in-law volunteered, out of the blue, that two is plenty and we don't need anymore. Well he doesn't get a vote and he needs to just keep that to himself!

Anonymous said...

As a Caucasian Irish woman, when I got engaged to a Trinidadian man, I received lots of advice not to marry a black man. That I would regret it if I did......

In September we will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary.

So much for advice!

Anonymous said...

Amen, amen, amen!

I was a bit miffed when some of the people close to me blabbed about my discernment when I wasn't at all ready to talk about it yet. Especially not when they defended themselves with "this affects me as well". There's a difference between me being polite and including you in some musings and me asking you to take over direction of my life :)

Now that my entrance date is set, it's pretty much common knowledge, and I'm out of the woods for discernment advice, thank God. I just hope I may persevere because apparently the personal happiness of 439 people depends on it :)

Adoro said...

VA ~ That's HILARIOUS and so true! NO PRESSURE! lol! God bless you!