On Giving Moral Advice

James F Keenan wrote in his 1996 America Magazine article “On Giving Moral Advice” that there are 13 things to consider when providing guidance and insight on moral behaviors.  I’ll address 6, as these will encompass the core elements that will be built upon in 7-13.

  1. Listen. Active listening provides both the lay minister and the one seeking direction to better understand the moral dilemma.  Often, through listening, the one seeking direction provides their own answers to their dilemma.  A lay minister may offer insight into the practices of the Church, but it is imperative that the one seeking direction be allowed to arrive at their own resolution.  We have a tendency to “buy-in” when we are part of the solution.  Arriving at the solution may include the lay minister guiding the individual along the path that is best suited but should never be a directive or mandate.  As lay ministers, we also learn through listening.
  2. Be positive. It is important to remember that as a lay minister, we are not judges.  It isn’t our role to tell others that they are wrong.  We must nurture, provide support, offer guidance in planning and show others how Catholic virtues may assist them in their planning processes.  When a lay minister provides this level of nurturing, the subject is able to build a trust and will be less guarded in their reflection and discussion.  What’s “right” for one person may not be “right” for another.  We must recognize this and allow for diversity.
  3. Invite people to set goals. We need to help others understand the importance of considering what is to come.  If we’re being engaged in discussion to address something that has already come to pass, we aren’t really advising.  We’re helping, through listening, to put a sense of peace in the mind of another.  But, goal setting discussions allow lay ministers to help others recognize the importance of what is to come.  Consider the planning for a grave site or the inscription on a headstone.  By supporting the goal setting process, we’re able to help lift a burden for both the subject and the family.
  4. Talk about the virtues. Virtues are a roadmap of sorts.  They help our minds to better process what path we need to follow.  It is easy to become confused and lose our way.  As a lay minister, focusing on the virtues allows an open dialogue, which will typically allow the subject to set goals through a positive learning experience without feeling coerced.
  5. Respect the conscience. Here it is important that the lay minister avoid the trap of “the Church says” and focus more on what the subject feels is right.  Not every solution is for everyone and we must support the subject in his rational through process, while offering him the gift of virtue to help him find the path that is most appropriate.
  6. Don’t solve people’s problems, rather, help them form their own consciences. Similarly to topic 5, we as lay ministers must not impose a “fix” to their problem.  Healing begins when the subject recognizes his own path.

Those who serve as lay ministers, often have a predisposition to want to help others find answers.  It is often in our nature.  We must learn to buffer this impulse so that we may be better at building the trust necessary to help others overcome their dilemma and find their own solution, which they will happily own and act upon.  We all want someone to point us in the right direction.  Sometimes we really do want someone to give us the answer but in doing so, what do we learn?  How do we learn to cope with future challenges?  Morality offers the lay minister a guide and the subject a “coping” mechanism.  In the end, we must give the subject enough rope; not to hang himself; but to build a bridge.

Works Cited

Keenan, James F. On Giving Moral Advice New York, NY. America Press, 1996. Print.

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