"To accept good advice is but to increase one's own ability," Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German playwright, poet and novelist. Advice is everywhere. From political pundits to advice columns to social networking sites, advice is readily available and free for the taking. With such a selection, knowing who to take advice from is critical. Adults know that the words from some people should just be tuned out; they know that some people like to talk and have no real knowledge on a subject. They have developed that skill by trial and error, also known as experience. What can parents and teachers do to help the children in their care learn that same lesson, perhaps without too many aggravating and horrible learning experiences?
Paolo Tiberi has an interesting resource available. In his book Chronicles of King Argoz, Prince Ultan and Princess Maya, the tale of The King and the Thief highlights the error of accepting bad advice in an easy-to-understand format for children. Near the end of this story, King Argoz realized that his advisors had been keeping the truth from him. He realized he needed to make decisions based on true evidences he had gathered himself. He didn't realize the error of their advice until years after he first began to follow it. The poverty level in his kingdom was at an all time low and people were starving and sick with no hope on the horizon. The king's advisors had not properly revealed the conditions of the country to the King, so nothing they suggestion was the right counsel. The Council provided platitudes and praises to a king who should have been warned and pleaded with, if necessary.
"His advisors reassured him with the words he wanted to hear. They spoke of how great he was and let him know that his laws were fair and certainly justified… His advisors continued to be cowards and not speak the truth."
Instead of creating children who listen to everyone, children should be encouraged to be discerning about who they trust enough to give them advice. This doesn't have to be a long or drawn out lesson; young children will not understand anything beyond the basics. Try giving them lots of opportunities to decide who should be asked for certain types of advice. For example, present the whole class with scenarios and then ask them what they think they'd do. If your bike broke, who would you ask to fix it, the baker or the repairman? If you needed help on your math homework, who would you ask, your little brother or your teacher? If you wanted to know how to make friends would you ask a bully or someone popular? If you wanted ideas on how to keep your room clean would you ask your brother whose room looks like a pig sty or your sister whose room is immaculate? Ideas and conversation starters are limitless. At this level, children can begin to grasp that it's important who we listen to.
People received solicited and unsolicited advice all day long it seems. Discerning the truth in the midst of all the noise can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. The reward of diligently searching for and accepting good advice is a higher chance for success.