You Can Be Neutral
Only If You Declare Your Neutrality
In most cases, counseling is something that happens only when necessary and is usually arranged by special appointment. People who require counseling for non-medical reasons are dealing with problems stemming from past experiences and those problems are effecting the quality of life in the present.
That’s the short explanation, what we’ve been led to think, but it raises an important question. How do people avoid problems in the first place?
The counseling process is complicated. In fact, it’s mysterious because humans are complex and experiences, both good and bad, add to that complexity. We’re not as normal as we like to think, or even worse, maybe we are.
The most popular version of counseling is after-the-fact crisis management. It’s the solution we turn to not because we have a problem but because the problem, undetected heretofore, has been around long enough for us to reach overload. It’s entrenched and won’t be easily dislodged. The solution is more like a slow and tedious untangling process than a quick fix. There’s no pill for this.
The process includes a bit of self discovery, others discovery and experience analysis. These three elements are the basic influences in every person’s life. They teach us how to think and act.
But what I just described is only one type of counseling. The people who provide it are professionals and it only takes place after the fact. It’s corrective, not prophylactic.
The Bigger Picture
But what about the rest of life? How do people learn to believe in themselves or not? Why do some people develop a fear of water? When do people become afraid of crowds? What influences these outcomes?
Nature plays a part but only a small part. The website, Very Well Mind, provides a short list of 98 phobias. It’s only a partial list but it’s long enough to show there aren’t enough natures to go around. The bigger causes must be found elsewhere.
Medical News Today says,
It is unusual for a phobia to start after the age of 30 years, and most begin during early childhood, the teenage years or early adulthood.
They can be caused by a stressful experience, a frightening event or a parent or household member with a phobia that a child can learn.
And there you have it. It’s more about timing than nature. All the input is external and happens in the most formative years. Nature is not the culprit. Phobias are nurtured.
Both good and bad qualities, strengths and weaknesses, are being shaped by people and experiences.
Counseling Happens Everyday
Counseling happens 24/7 in everyday life. Living is counseling. If you’re alive, you’re counseling and being counseled.
There may very well be times when a special problem arises that requires professional attention, but at all other times, I am counseling others by the way I live. The way I manage money, time, relationships counsels others in how to manage these things too.
Everything I do, everything I say and every attitude I entertain sends a message to those around me. I am counseling everyone around me, and everyone around me is counseling me.
It isn’t intentional, but it is real.
The more influence one has, the more their counsel takes hold.
What About Moral Issues
We like to think we can live our own lives completely to ourselves and separate from everyone else without interfering, intruding or asserting influence. Not so!
Doing nothing in the face of moral friction, communicates a lot. Everything you do or don’t do speaks volumes. Everything you say or don’t say sends a message. No response is neutral.
One clarification, though. A person can be neutral. It’s possible but only if they openly declare their neutrality. If you say nothing or do nothing, others are likely to interpret your response as endorsement.
We are constantly sending signals and some of the non-verbal messages are the loudest and most pointed of all.
The Quiet Treatment
We’ve all experienced the quiet treatment? Someone gets offended by something you said or did, and to let you know they are upset, they give you the quiet treatment. That is, they either don’t say anything at all or they say a lot less than they normally would, and whatever they do say is clipped and laced with ice cycles. Regular banter is no longer the norm. Emotional exchange is cold.
The quiet treatment sends two messages, one with words and one without words. One is verbal and the other is tonal, and in most cases, tonal overshadows verbal.
The point? The way we live sends messages all the time.
The people we influence most will try to mimic our behavior. Others may do the opposite. Some people will ignore us. Some will become devotees. Some will copy our actions simply because they have no other frame of reference. This happens with children all the time.
The reality is we learn to act from the actions of others. It’s subtle but every person makes an imprint.
Because of this, the Bible teaches us to be mindful of how we live and the things we say in the hope of creating interest. The intent is not to provoke a fight but to draw people out, stimulate curiosity about spiritual truths.
1 Peter 3:15 says
Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
Colossians 4:5-6 says
Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. (RSV)
1 Timothy 4:12 says
Be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
These references, and more, speak to the importance of what we might call indirect counseling. Your everyday actions, good or bad, are instructive. We aren’t telling people what to do directly. It’s subtle. Maybe the effect is subliminal but our actions quietly impose influence.
The other type of counseling, the one I mentioned before, is a little more direct. It’s one person seeking specific input from another person regarding a particular area in their life. It involves an intentional conversation and a deliberate effort to solve a problem. It can be professional or merely one friend talking to another.
Direct or indirect, though, there are several important counseling truths to consider.
Everyone Needs Counsel
Everyone starts in the same place. Nowhere!
Everyone starts with the same knowledge. Zilch!
Counseling is the solution for both. Good counsel guides us, informs us, secures us and instills core principles to live by. We usually refer to that process as parenting. We don’t always associate parenting with counseling but what else would you call it?
No one automatically knows how to live life. Good counsel is something we desperately need, often. There is actually very little difference between good counsel and good teaching.
Unfortunately, though we all absorb the counsel we’re given, it is sometimes insufficient, misaligned or completely bad. In each case, we’re stumbling.
Unlike animals whose knowledge is instinctive, or inborn, Humans gain knowledge through hard study and consistent application. We start with nothing and gain only what we work for, but the one thing we are loathe to admit is that we don’t know something.
The point, of course, is everyone needs counsel.
I Can Counsel Others To Be Only What I Am
Almost sounds sophisticated to say it but everyone is a counselor. Every person influences someone. The drawback is I can only counsel others to be me and you can only counsel others to be you. Obviously, we’re not all the same.
Every person has both good and bad qualities and it isn’t a question of religion. A Christian is not automatically better than a Buddhist. Better off, maybe. A better destiny, yes, but a person’s character and manner and lifestyle aren’t always superior only because they associate with a certain religion.
Every religion aims to shape the character of it’s adherents but how effectively that happens depends a lot on the willingness of each member to change.
Even Christians, who have the benefit of a new nature (because of the new birth), aren’t always compliant. Stubbornness and refusal to change is not unheard of in Christian circles.
But here is the problem. Whatever I am is the only thing I can give you. Hopefully, I will extend wise and wholesome counsel but however wise it might be, it will never be perfect. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect and no other person is perfect, other than Jesus. We can only give what we are.
And for this reason, a word of caution to parents. Never encourage your kids to be you. Rather encourage them to be better than you. That’s also a reason to counsel those who are close cautiously. Before you disclose how off-the-mark they are be sure they aren’t reflecting your influence.
The Need For Counsel Never Ends
Your aim is not perfection, at least not in this life. A faultless state is too far above us to be a realistic option. Save quantum mechanics for the next life. Right now, focus on adding and subtracting accurately.
But whatever the aim, we all need counseling.
Professional athletes understand this. Golfers, for example, rely on good coaching – a type of counsel – their entire professional careers. You can never see your golf swing as clearly as a qualified onlooker.
Why then don’t we readily see the need for outside counsel in daily living? Should we treat life like most amateurs treat their golf game? Hacking our way through, never making changes and hoping no one else shoots better than 85 either.
Unless you’re perfect, the need for change and the possibility to change will never cease. That’s actually an exciting thought. Doesn’t every person anticipate positive change? But change will occur only if we recognize the constant need to change and accept the counseling needed to see it done.
Don’t be the Christian who thinks the only thing required is salvation. That’s important, but it’s only the starting point. There’s more to come.
Also, don’t be the Christian who gives only lip service to change. Change can be scary, especially if friends and family oppose it, but don’t hide behind your peers. As the old saying goes, be the change you want to see.
And once the change is solid, let your life do the coaching.
Remember, each of us is just as responsible for the good things we would not allow as we are for the bad things we actually do. The need for counseling and the need for change never ends.
First, Seek Counsel
Counseling has become the craze, the trend, the aspiration and to prove we’re on board with it, we always have an answer for every problem. We’re specialists. And we practice on our friends.
What we fail to see is that offering unsolicited advice is more judgmental than helpful. It’s a good way to mess up a friendship or prevent one from forming in the first place.
The safe bet is to seek counsel first and offer it very sparingly after. Jesus said as much.
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Jesus was the friend of sinners and we should be too, but friendship is predicated on acceptance. The unspoken message of unsolicited counsel is your unacceptable and I’m the judge.
People who habitually walk into every relationship counsel first, constantly correcting and changing everyone they meet, are the last people we seek for help? Good counselors try to gain as much from others before handing out corrective advice and offer it sparingly when solicited, not before.
Do you ask yourself what the other person, the unacceptable one, could teach you even if they don’t fit your image of sainthood? If not, maybe you should.
Since none of us are perfect, it only stands to reason that any person can provide counsel stemming from their unique skills and experiences.
Another good question. Do you accept as friends only those people who fit within the traditionally preferred image? And do you spend a lot of time and energy counseling (correcting) those that don’t before you offer some degree of acceptance?
Counseling Is Not Debating
Don’t confuse the issues. If you want to debate, say so. There is a time and place for it and even rules. But an undeclared, unregulated debate is nothing but a street fight in dress clothes. If you want to counsel, don’t approach it like an argument. Paul said it best (2 Timothy 2:23-25).
Don’t have anything to do with stupid and foolish arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
The only people who will make good use of sound counsel are the ones who want it. Cramming it down their throats may feel great, but it will only cause more trouble.
Lastly, the most receptive, shapeable people in the world are children. Counseling’s greatest impact happens in the early years. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so start early and build slowly.