Gian-Carlo Rota on the advice we give

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.” And, as he noticed, this kind of unveiling is more pronounced when we are giving life advice to others.

But why is that? I guess it’s because the advice we give is most often drawn directly from our own life experiences.

In Towards Greatness
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