Self-appointed experts are quite a joy, and by joy I mean they make me roll my eyes across the table at the wonderful friends who can read me like a book. Those people who spend their time offering advice (almost always unsolicited) about problems, issues, and concerns that are not their own. You might know some. Those people who, when you are discussing a concern you have with your ministry or life or challenge with family or how to work with unruly hair on Sunday mornings, quickly tell you how to fix the issue. Yet when you say, "Oh, you've encountered this?" they respond, "No, I simply enjoy offering random advice to people about matters in which I have no practical experience."
Well, they don't say that, but they should. That truth would be so helpful. But instead, we toss out advice or solutions to problems that may or may not be helpful. Perhaps we feel compelled to fix others so we can assure ourselves that whatever problems we personally face have a solution (and someone will give us the quick and easy fix). Perhaps we need to validate ourselves by showing how dandy and insightful we are. Perhaps we are simply fearful about saying, "Wow, that sounds really hard," because that might imply we aren't the best person ever.
Perhaps, perhaps, we simply forget that offering a quick (and almost always wrong) solution isn't helpful because we aren't in the midst of the problem.
Or, as Ice-T writes in his autobiography, "Don't be commenting on the battle if you ain't fighting the war."
Ice-T (who, I admit, is one of my favorite celebrities because he's just so real about his life) writes about his experience when the Republican party and eventually a portion of the entire country decided that his song, "Cop Killer," was the root of every problem ever in America. We all know how much power a song that doesn't even get radio play has on the country. But I digress. Ice eventually decided to pull the song from the album (because way back then, in between dodging dinosaurs to get to school, we bought actual CD's from the store). Obviously, he got flak for what some perceived as giving in to pressure. His quote is actually from a friend of his who reassured Ice that Ice himself was the one to make the best decision in the middle of the situation.
Don't be commenting on the battle if you ain't fighting the war.
We humans are quite adept at commenting on battles that we watch from a safe distance. We think that our academic insight can give us real experience. Maybe, but truthfully, that type of wisdom is pretty rare. Most of our insight comes not from academic discourse and reading books, but from the battles of life. And notice I said battles. We don't learn much about ourselves from our successes. The wounds and the scars disappointments, hurts, and mistakes leave can truly give us wisdom if we offer that pain to God to heal. Success does a better job of validating our egos. Not always a bad thing, but not exactly an invitation to delve into the deepest part of our souls where God has some impressive treasures to share with us.
When people comment on battles and wars and the ensuing scars they often leave while watching it all from their recliner? Not particularly helpful. Or loving. Don't. Just don't.
Don't assume, if you have never been a woman, that you empathize with the experience of gender discrimination. Don't assume, if you've never been a racial minority, that you "get" oppression. Don't assume, if you've never done the hard work of grief, that you can tell people what to feel and when to feel it. And even if you can share the experiences because you've been in similar situations that they path you walked is the one another should walk.
That isn't helpful. It's simply hubris.
This isn't to say that you cannot be present to another's challenges and pain. The wiser way is simply to listen to the story and experience and honor its originality. If you have never had that experience, saying, "Wow, I have never had that experience," is really okay. If you are invited, share yours if you have a similar one. We all have been through battles, and the ones among us that have done the hard work to do more than simply blame the other and have, in the process, gained some wisdom, can share what that experience was and is. Yet we simply must recognize the holiness of our experience and the holiness of the other's experience.
Usually, when people are going through the battles of life, they need to know they aren't alone in life, that they are loved, and that sorrow won't kill them. That, we are all able to do. That is what we can trust.
Trust that we almost never have all the facts. Trust that it's not our job to fix anyone else. Trust that commenting on another's troubles or problems is almost always more about us that them.
Trust that the gift of simply listening is more valuable that many of us realize.
And read Ice-T's bio if you want some good, fun reading about the battles and wars of a gang-banger from L.A. who is really, really grounded and would make a great next-door neighbor.