With graduation days coming to an end, lots of advice has been passed around. Some of it came from graduation speakers who may have been famous or not so famous, but who sought to pass on some words of timely wisdom — and in such a way that students who have no interest whatsoever in the speech might actually listen.

A friend alerted me to a recent article in the New York Times in which Stephen J. Dubner reminisced about passing on the best advice he’d ever learned. That, naturally, set me to thinking about advice I’ve been given, and its collective worth.

I discovered that much of the advice I’ve been given — when it was clearly labeled as advice — has turned out to be either not so memorable, or not so good. I remember, for example, being told as a young man: “You will find many women in life that you can live with. Marry the one you can’t live without.” That sounds good, but what 20-year-old, testosterone-driven, brain-not-yet-fully-functioning young man can be trusted to make a rational decision about who he can or can’t live without?

The best advice I was given, I think, was either not couched as advice, or it wasn’t spoken at all. Much of it was simply instruction from parents or teachers when I was still very young: “be good,” “play nice,” “show respect to others,” “do your best,” or even “get over it.”

That advice was most effective when I saw it lived out in my parents, my Sunday School teachers, my coaches. I don’t recall either of my parents ever saying “be willing to work hard and do whatever it takes to do what needs to be done,” but I saw them doing it, and it became a part of who I am. I don’t remember them saying “it’s better to help people than to criticize them for needing help,” but I saw them doing it, and I learned.

Some of the best advice I’ve run across as an adult can be found in the simple but profound way Fred Rogers had of helping people understand themselves and appreciate who God had made them to be. For example, in The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember, you can find straightforward truths that many people need to hear, things like

Some days, doing “the best we can” may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front — and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.

For those of us who had the rare privilege of knowing Fred as a friend, just being around him was a constant lesson in self-understanding and other-appreciation. About 15 years ago now, on a cold day in December, Jan and I visited with him in his tiny office above the Pittsburgh studio where “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was filmed. One of the walls was dominated by a large piece of Chinese calligraphy. He told us it should be translated as “If you want to see yourself clearly, don’t look in muddy water.”

I like the way Mister Rogers served as such a clear reflection of the goodness and potential that lies within each of us, and the way it challenges me to live in a similar fashion. When I think of good advice, I think of that.

OK, readers, it’s your turn: what’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Hit the comment button and share your wisdom — you might just have the word that someone really needs today.

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