Passing on advice - a dilemma
Following on from a bit of a false start caused by a lovely sickness bug, I ended up getting to Youthwork the conference a day late. I had a great time though, and despite my endeavours to take it easy as I was both recovering from illness and I am now 6 months pregnant, I seemed to fit in quite a lot. One of the sessions I went to was on reflective listening. It was excellent, with great content and presentation. However, something was mentioned that keeps cropping up and I am not sure what I think. It was the idea that our role as youth workers is not to give advice. In fact, with regards to relfective listening, it is a big no-no.
I went to the session as I know that I do not always listen well enough and I am too quick to offer my opinion, whether in relation to youth work or chatting with friends. And I am well aware of the dangers of youth workers having an undue, unhealthy influence on the young people that they work, albeit intentionally or not. It is also very dodgy when people feel the need to tell others what to do when they do not really know them, or the other person doesn't trust them. It is absolutely right that young people are given the space and time to make up their own minds about things and do not feel pressured into certain ideologies or decisions as a result of the youth peer group or youth leader. And vulnerable young people are at risk of becoming co-dependent, which youth workers need to be aware of.
However, at the same time I think there is space to offer and accept advice in all areas of life, including when working with young people. I am worried that to shy away from offering advice puts too much pressure on the individual. Do we really have all of the answers within? This may be an unfair representation of reflective listening, but the idea is that by listening and reflecting back to a young person, they can think through their own situation and come up with their own way forward. But in my own life, I am not sure that this is always the case. I need other people, not just to listen to me, but I want to learn from their experience and hear their perspective. I certainly don't act upon every bit of advice I am given, but there are some people that I really trust and I want - need their input.
I think it goes deeper than this. I think God calls for us to be together, to learn together, to support one another, to be in community and need each other. This is part of why Christians are called to be church; true church is about vulnerability, honesty and a move away from self-reliance and reliance not just on God but each other. In Proverbs 27:17, it says, 'as iron sharpens iron, one man [sic] sharpens another.' Sometimes when we are in a relationship that is based on mutual trust and respect, we need to say and hear challenging things. We need to think of things from a new angle. We need to admit we don't have all of the answers and talk things through with someone else that doesn't have all of them either, but can help us see things differently. We need to hear things we don't like.
And this is risky and at times dangerous. The things we say can be taken the worng way. We may mis-read a situation. But it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it, adn I think that this applies to youth work as well.
I am still thinking through this, but this is where my thoughts are at the moment. I would really value any thoughts or feedback.