Where were we? What was I saying last time I was up here?
Well, it was last year around this time. It appears that the rabbis are full up writing their High Holy Day sermons. So, if I offer to give a sermon at what might very well be — amid the rush of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the least attended service in the history of Reform Judaism, I might be allowed to do it.
So I offered. And here I am. (I'm glad both of you could be here.)
So, where were we last time I was up here? Oh, I remember: I was boasting about how distracted I get during services. I tried to make the case for how daydreaming might be the most effective form of worship.
And I encouraged you to try to get lost in your worship. Stop stressing about keeping up. Fall behind everyone else. Go wherever the moment takes you.
That was either great advice, deepening the experience of the High Holy Days for you.
Or it was terrible advice, giving me a slight advantage over you in getting my prayers heard — while you were daydreaming.
In either event, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be giving religious advice.
And, that brings us to where I left off last year.
This sermon is about bad advice. And good advice. And what makes one different from the other.
This sermon is about agenda-free advice.
During the past couple months I've been doing a lot of reading about the subject. By "a lot of reading" I mean "I've skimmed the better part of a book."
For me, that's a lot of scholarship.
That's the reason I'm not a rabbi. Because a real rabbi knows that reading half a book is not being a scholar.
Still, now I am an expert in agenda-free advice.
First, I will define it. Then I will tell you where you can find it. Then I will tell you how to give it.
Then I will sit down.
What It Is
Agenda-free advice is advice given by someone — an "advisor" — who has no direct investment in the advice. The advisor won't be helped or hurt substantially by your decision to accept or reject the advice.
The advisor wants to help, so there is that agenda. But the advisor seeks Tikun — your healing, your advancement, your improvement. The agenda driving the advisor is your agenda, not the advisor's agenda.
What's the opposite of agenda-free advice? Let's call it: "agenda-rich advice."
What might be the advisor's agenda?
A mentor of mine says: "After a business meeting I want the other person to think three things: 1. That I'm smart. 2. That he or she likes me. And 3. That he or she feels vaguely uncomfortable because there is work to be done."
I love that description of agenda-rich advice. It's when the advisor wants to do more than help. The advisor wants to move you toward a mutual agenda.
Sometimes the agenda-rich advice is an attempt to make you more like the advisor.
That's not bad. It can be quite good.
But it isn't agenda-free advice.
Agenda-free advice doesn't want to make you into someone else. Agenda-free advice wants you to be more authentic. Like that midrash about Louie arriving in heaven and apologizing for not being more like Moses. The gatekeeper says, "But the goal was not for you to be more like Moses. The goal was for you to be more like Louie."
That's shuvah. Returning. Returning to authenticity. Returning to who you are.
Agenda-free advice is when the advisor has only your agenda in mind — and the advice is pure, purely in service to you. Then the advisor walks away, with no ownership in your next steps.
Where can you find agenda-free advice?
I have found it in only two places.