Gian-Carlo Rota on the advice we give others
Gian-Carlo Rota, mathematician and philosopher, in a 1996 lecture titled “Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught”:
I have been collecting some random bits of advice that I keep repeating to myself, do’s and don’ts of which I have been and will always be guilty.
Some of you have been exposed to one or more of these tidbits. Collecting these items and presenting them in one speech may be one of the less obnoxious among options of equal presumptuousness.
The advice we give others is the advice that we ourselves need. Since it is too late for me to learn these lessons, I will discharge my unfulfilled duty by dishing them out to you.
Rota’s insight is a variation of the famous saying, “x says more about the person saying it than it does about x.” As he notices it, this kind of self-unveilling is more pronounced when one is giving some sort of life advice to others.
But why is that?
I guess it’s because the advice one gives is usually drawn from one’s own life experiences. Generally speaking, if one chose something and have gone through the consequences (good or bad) of that choice, then it must feel viscerally true. To this person, that choice and its outcome become something worth preaching.
An interesting consequence of our boundness to our own experiences is that a keen observer may be able to gather lots of valuable insight about you just by asking for your advice.