At some point we all need a little advice. Proverbs is full of advice on seeking advice: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” (12:15); “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22). St. Benedict had some interesting advice on advice as well. First, when you have to make a big decision the whole community should be involved. Second, everyone should be allowed to contribute their thoughts and opinions on the matter and then should remain silent and listen to the others. Even the young should participate – “The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” (RB 3:3) Finally, in the end it is the abbot’s decision to make. Once he makes his decision those under his authority should submit and move forward accordingly.
I can help but think that our decisions – in our lives, our families and our ministries – would be better off if we followed such counsel. How often do we include our spouse and our children in our decisions? How often do we take serious the thoughts and opinions of children and youth in our churches? How often do we lead without considering the thoughts of those we lead?
I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s Peoria Speech given in Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854. In this speech he warned of the danger of ignoring a universal feeling – whether right, wrong, or indifferent. In this case he was speaking of the unintended consequences of giving equal rights to African Americans. Is it possible that we who lead are the only ones not holding to the “universal feeling”? There is a fine line between the priestly and the prophetic in leadership.