Tiny Wisdom: Help People Help Themselves

“Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” ~Cicero

Since I write about overcoming adversity, I receive a lot of emails and blog comments from readers seeking advice.

When I first started this site, I promised myself I’d never tell readers not to email seeking feedback. I’d seen this type of disclaimer on other blogs, and I decided I wanted to do things differently.

I wanted to be approachable and helpful—to offer guidance as best I could, as time allowed. After all, that’s why I do this—not to talk at people, but to make friends and be a friend.

Earlier this year, a blog post I’d written about dealing with break-ups passed the 300 mark for comments—all from readers who were hurting over their former relationships and looking for guidance and relief.

In seeing so much immense pain, I started feeling powerless to really make a difference—like I wasn’t qualified to tell so many people what they should do.

One day something occurred to me: Often when I turn to someone for advice, I’m not really looking for answers. I’m simply looking to be heard. When I do receive answers, I’m not always able to utilize them.

No matter how many times others tell us what we should think or do, we’re not fully able to follow their advice unless we’ve formed our own insights.

All the shared wisdom in the world can’t compare to one genuine epiphany.

So I’ve changed my approach a little, when it comes to emails and comments from readers seeking advice.

If I have an idea that might be helpful, I put that out there—but for the most part, I answer questions with more questions to help them form their own conclusions.

The reality is that I am no wiser than them; I just happen to publicize the things I observe and learn on a given day. And much like them, I sometimes need a little help accessing the answers within.

Maybe that’s what it means to really help people—to help them help themselves.

None of us has it all figured out, and maybe we never will.

Acknowledging this, to me, is the difference being having followers and friends. With followers, you lead the way. With friends, you support them in discovering it for themselves.

Photo by ronsaunders47

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Jodavidson

    ‘i’m interested!

  • Lelainia Lloyd

    I served on a crisis line for 8 years. We worked from the model of being person focused, rather than problem focused. When you trust in someone’s ability to help themselves, it shows them respect and allows them to have dignity. It is far better to empower someone than to rescue them. If you empower them, they gain the skills to meet challenges themselves in the future. If you rescue them, YOU may feel powerful, but it leaves them vulnerable.

    The most powerful thing you can say to someone is “Would you like some advice, or would you like me just to listen?” 99% of the time, people just need someone to bounce ideas off of and to have their feelings validated. Listening, really listening, is a gift. It says to someone that you care about them enough to be present for them and it helps them feel less alone with their problems. When they experience that, it gives them the courage to begin to sort things out and to move forward. They can stop convincing you that their problems are real and get on with the work of dealing with them.

    Truth is that we are barely experts on how to run our own lives. It’s foolish to think we know best about what works for other people’s lives. We don’t need people to “fix” us. We are not a laundry list of problems. We are human beings doing the best we can at any given moment. Life is messy, but with a little understanding and support, we’ll rise above.

  • jr cline

    When I think I’ve figured out a bit of ‘it’ I quickly learn I didn’t have a clue.  lol  

  • I love this! I feel like I could have written it myself. I definitely agree that the insights we reach on our own are the ones that create real change. I used to browse the internet for hours, Googling all my life questions and reading blog posts and forums. But nothing ever fully resonated with me, and I didn’t take action until I came up with my own answers—the ones that felt right to ME. 

    Advice from other people certainly helps, but I’m a strong believer that self-advice is the most meaningful advice in the end. 

    Great post! 🙂 

  • Lori, hanks for reminding me of the mindset for truly helping others. 

    I just started teaching the summer session for adult basic education classes and the amount of ground I have to cover with my students is overwhelming. However, you’ve reminded me that my focus is enabling my students to find the skills and resources within themselves to continue their learning (even beyond the classroom) is a relief.

    When I read this in your post, “No matter how many times others tell us what we should think or do, we’re not fully able to follow their advice unless we’ve formed our own insights,” you got me thinking. This is the same with education. 

    If students don’t experience learning within themselves, the learning doesn’t stick. They are not empty vessels we pour knowledge into.

    Thanks for the reminder, Lori!

  • Elgb

    thanks Lori, you helped me a while ago when my first reaction was to lash out and then realized after doing so that it just made things feel worse inside.

  • Lola

    Your wisdom grows and spreads to others. Thank you Lori.

  • Guest

    I’m doing this towards someone right now, very apt timing this post. Trying to help them help themselves and see where they are going wrong, not preaching as I’m far from perfect myself.

  • KP

    Lori- you are amazing. AMAZING. You are so compassionate and thoughtful and this post really expresses those traits. I am so grateful to have found your blog and even more grateful for your insights. You have such a great heart and I can’t thank you enough for spreading your love through your honest, beautiful writing. Sending you Metta.

  • I know from personal experience that the friends I value most are the ones that just ask more questions until I figure it out myself. And I am more trusting of that process. Those that shove solutions down your throat are often those that get annoyed or go into ‘I told you so’ when you don’t follow their advice. This has made me doubt motives of the people that immediately start telling me what to do.

    A good friend will trust you to make the right decision and be there for you regardless. And through that trust you learn to trust yourself.

  • Mindful Searcher

    Having a concerned listener is better than having someone tell you what you should do. Being a good friend means being a good listener.

  • I just wanted to say that this is really beautiful and wise, Lori.

  • Dear Lori,

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and kudos to Lelainia for a masterful addition to your post.

    They say, a question never asked is an answer never heard. And would could definitely apply that truism to giving advice that isn’t asked for. And even if it is, as you pointed out, most people are wanting validation rather than a check list of their mistakes. Being a sounding board is a very delicate process.


  • Tiepies

    I stumbled upon this site after googling ‘how to get over a breakup’. I read your breakup post, and then a few others. What you write are truly gems of insight, empathy, and thoughtful moderation. 

  • Janice Washer

    Id love to put this comment on my FB page – do you mind?  I think it is great!

  • franco

    lori i am so happy to have come to know you TYNY BUDA CITO life his not wath we want but what we give..start each day has your first day of your life…smile to the sun nature..friends..your healt…famaly…the rest looks after..relationschip…scould be e bonus every down tomorow..that his life….we cant chang it..but you can..have a MERAVIGLIOSO DAY  CIAO FRANCO

  • Hi TJ,

    You’re most welcome! What a beautiful way to phrase it, about not being empty vessels. I remember back in school, some of my favorite teachers were the ones that taught through experiential activities, as opposed to simply lecturing. Everything seemed much more interesting and engaging that way, and it certainly made information stick more easily.

    I hope you have a wonderful summer session! =)


  • You’re most welcome, and thank you, as well. =)

  • Wow thanks so much KP. What a wonderfully kind comment! I feel so grateful to have this outlet, and even more grateful that I can connect with people, help, and be helped with them. Sending you Metta as well. =)

  • Thanks so much Gabriella. I appreciate your kind words. =)

  • I’ve never heard that before…about a question never asked. So true! There’s a quote I love that reads, “Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers.” I think just knowing where to shine a light within is a powerful step in the right direction.

  • Thanks so much Teipies. I’ve tried to help as best as I can. I’m glad you found your way here. Welcome. =)

  • There’s some beautiful advice in your comment Franco. I love what you wrote about starting each day as the first day of your life!

  • Thanks so much Madison. I used to do that too–google my life questions for answers! I’ve gotten the feeling we have a lot in common….

  • I’m so glad I was helpful to you ELGB! I’ve had the same reaction at times in the past, and it’s never led to anything good.

  • This is so beautifully compassionate and insightful Lelainia! I love what you wrote about showing people respect and empowering them, instead of feeling powerful and making them feel vulnerable. What a kind, thoughtful way to really be there for people.

  • Nelsi

    Thank you for this post Lori. It make me realize to LISTEN more to others rather than try to solve their problems. But what if the person keep telling the same sad story and keep complaining? Sometimes I feel tired listening to them but at the same time I would love to help them.

  • Basketbeth613

    Insightful. I want to be heard! From a child I have always felt I wasn’t being heard or not important enough to be listened to which made me loud and louder. Not always very nice. Going through abuse from my child, I have learned to take a new path to being awakened. It saved my life. I am so blessed to have been practicing yoga and meditation, it saved my life as did your site and emails. I am so blessed to have found you and many wonderful pages on FB. Thank you so much. Love and light, Beth

  • Loveoflife70

    Thank You, that was simple and to the point, I couldn’t agree more… empowerment to make your own decisions and choices based on the information from others and yourself really do get you across the line.  

    Many thanks x

  • Tiela Garnett


    You’re amazing – your compassion, your wisdom, and your ability to be present day after day…

    You’re the best!

    Thank you for everything you do.


  • Thank you so much Tiela, and you’re most welcome. =)

  • You’re most welcome!

  • I know what you mean Nelsi…I’ve been there, on both sides of that coin! For me, it’s helped to set boundaries, so that I’m a compassionate/active listener, but I know when I need to change the topic of conversation or walk away. It’s a powerless feeling–when you think you can’t help. I tell myself that maybe I’m helping more than I know. I know a lot of people helped me when it probably seemed like I wasn’t making any progress. It was happening internally–just very slowly!

  • You’re most welcome Beth. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve taken abuse from your child (and that you grew up feeling not heard. I can relate to that in a big way!) How wonderful you’ve found meditation and yoga. Those practices have made a big difference in my life, as well!

  • I think most people really know the answers. I agree they just want someone to listen. I know I love talking about my problems, but I’d really like to seek the answers in my own. Of course it depends how complex the problem is.

  • Joice

    Very, very insightful, Lori. And some people are not ready yet to know or learn some truths and trying to help them by providing them with answers may not really help. Hugs!

  • megablessed288

    You “hit the hammer on the nail” when you said “Often when I turn to someone for advice, I’m not really looking for
    answers. I’m simply looking to be heard. When I do receive answers, I’m
    not always able to utilize them.”   I have learned to say to my husband that I just need to vent and to ask if he could hear me all the way through before he comments. 

    Perhaps he DOES have my answers, but I can’t make them MY answers until I am ready, able and most importantly, willing!! He and I have been Friends of Bill W for over 20 years and in sharing ES&H, we aren’t telling anyone what to do, we’re sharing what has worked for us in the same or a similar situation.  Unless I have been through the exact situation, I don’t say to someone who is hurting that I KNOW how they feel…for example, I have relinquished a child to adoption so when I hear someone talk about that as their experience I do have a clue as to how they feel…but if they say they’ve lost a child to SIDS or an accident of some kind, I can’t say I know, but I can say that I will listen and understand as best I can…what a difference that makes for me when someone does that when I am hurting!

  • 10ious

    You are so amazingly right. I was going through some pain. When I would tell people why I was hurting. The one’s who just listened. Were like a breeze on a hot summer day.
    Thought, those that gave advice. It was like being burned alive .

  • ShugieMoon

    being one that is searching for help, answers…yess, sometimes you just want to have validation that you are on the right track. Having someone listen and pay attention to you during the hard times is a blessing in itself, just knowing that you aren’t alone and forgotten is very helpful.  Having someone to get you started thinking of answers can help get you out of the feeling of being so overwhelmed.
    Thanks Lori for all of your posts and acknowledgements!

  • It’s such a great feeling to simply be heard, and know you’re not being judged. Those kinds of friendships are rare, and oh so valuable!

  • You’re most welcome! I think you hit the nail on the head with attention. Sometimes we all just need to be seen!

  • It’s like that quote, “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” I know sometimes I’ve asked for advice hoping someone would change what I knew!

  • Thanks Joice. Hugs back to you!

  • I’ve said that same thing to my boyfriend! I think men instinctively want to “fix” things (and sometimes we do too–it’s not totally a gender thing!) I love what you wrote about not telling people you know how they feel. I often say (and write) “I can only imagine how hard that must be for you.” This feels like a way to be compassionate without implying I know something I don’t!

  • Brent Oh

    Wonderful Wisdom. It’s very helpful. Thanks.

  • Wings

    Very enlightening! You truly have a gift with the words you speak. I feel fortunate to have found your site, all your teachings are so very concentrated and speak volumes!!
    I feel that every new day is a choice …I remind myself this when my thoughts wander ..choose how you want to feel, like a ripple effect, if you choose good you will receive good, and on occasion when that good doesn’t come back to you 🙁 you can still feel GOOD because you made the right choice 🙂

    Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  • You’re most welcome, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love what you wrote about every day being a new choice. I feel the same way =)

  • Aiman

    I’m dealing with the exact same thing that you’ve written. It made a lot of sense to me, thank you for posting it.But I have a question, What if feeling powerful makes you feel important? The feeling that someone is depending on you makes you feel really important, I know this is being selfish but if being selfish is the only way you feel that you are on the path to being successful, are you on the wrong path then?

  • kavin paker

    I appreciate your kind words! When I think about the impact I’d like to make, Ian
    Filippini Montecito

  • Webfanner

    You are absolutely right I was telling my mom don’t give me advice I just want to listen I have come to the conclusion because every time she tries to help me to give me advice I get upset

  • I think that’s all most of us want–to be heard. It can be so hard to simply listen without trying to fix things, but I try to remember this when someone shares their struggles with me. I know it makes a world of difference for me when someone just sees me, hears me, and empathizes with my pain.