In one of my favorite books, A Daughter of Two Mothers, the amputee tzadeikes Sheina Ruchel Fruchter recalls how inundated she was with all sorts of well-meaning advice.
Faced with bizarre and cruel challenges that others couldn't possibly know how to handle, the advice appeared insensitive and wearying.
Turning to a fellow tzadekeis and her personal mentor, Sheina Ruchel asked Rivka Klar for advice.
Rivka pointed out because all the advice was well-intended, Sheina Ruchel should focus on the intent and heart of the advice-giver and not on the advice itself.
Meaning, Sheina Ruchel should express gratitude to the advice-giver, then go ahead and do exactly as she saw best. And indeed, Sheina Ruchel offered profuse thanks to her multitude of advice-givers over the years, careful to avoid hurting their feelings even as her own feelings frayed.
"And that's the best advice I ever received!" Sheina Ruchel later declared to her daughter.
Initially, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I put myself in her shoes and realized that this happens all the time. Many of us have spoken before measuring the impact of our well-intentioned words, not realizing that what we meant to be soothing or helpful was actually bruising and wearying.
And I'd wager that all of us have been on the receiving end of unasked-for and unhelpful advice.
Culturally and emotionally speaking, many people prefer to set up a boundary.
It's common to argue with unwanted advice, to put the advice-giver in his or her place, to shoot a scathing rebuke at the advice-giver, to assert one's own understanding and knowledge over that of the advice-giver, to say, "Thank you, but I'm fine," or "Thank you, but we're already in consultation with a professional," or "Thank you, but I prefer to handle this on my own," or to just fume in resentful silence.
And some of the above are perfectly appropriate when the advice-giver really isn't well-intended or actually interferes where they shouldn't or has become unbearably overbearing.
But I think it takes a great deal of humility and ayin tovah (good eye) to do what Sheina Rochel did.
It couldn't have been easy because she really suffered and suffered for years.
Yet she not only fulfilled this advice, she even relished this advice as she saw that it helped her maintain peace with her well-intended neighbors and villagers.
And even if we don't have the humility or ayin tovah (good eye) of this tzadekeis, responding to difficult situations with gratitude can cultivate these good middot within us.
But it seems like there's a bigger lesson here.
And that lesson is to respond to people according to their intent and not according to our own defense mechanisms (which likely developed to help us in hard situations but isn't so helpful or even accurate as a knee-jerk reaction).
Sheina Ruchel profusely thanked her advice-givers for their good intentions -- and then she did exactly as she saw best.
We're not supposed to be like that nowadays.
In the name of honesty, we're supposed to be assertive and more upfront with our feelings.
But we can also direct our feelings. We can cultivate gratitude and ayin tovah even when our initial response is the opposite.
May Hashem help us use all our words and actions l'tovah.