Why are we so good at giving advice, but so bad at applying it to our own lives? As EM Forster explains Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice...

December 07, 2017
Why are we so good at giving advice, but so bad at applying it to our own lives?  As EM Forster explains Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice...
Girls Under Trees by Auguste Macke at the Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst - Munich
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Dear Erica

Why is it so much easier to see what others should do in their love lives?  My best friend is engaged to this banker who is totally wrong for her and I know she still loves her ex-boyfriend.  But she just doesn’t see it.  Why is it so easy to be wise about other people’s love lives, but so foolish with our own?

Not so wise in Nottingham

Dear Not so wise in Nottingham,

You are so right.  It often seems we can easily fix our friends’ problems(if they’d listen to us!), but a solution to our own problem alludes us.  As E.M. Forster notes in Room With a View, it is easier for an outside observer to get to the heart of a problem.  Looking at Lucy Honeychurch,  he writes, “It is obvious enough for the reader to conclude, "She loves young Emerson." A reader in Lucy's place would not find it obvious. Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”

In the novel, Lucy is engaged to Cecil deVyse, a man who she does not love, and who does not truly love her, but she refuses to acknowledge the feelings she has for George Emerson, a young, rather eccentric man she meets while holidaying in Florence.  “Remembering that she was engaged to Cecil, she compelled herself to confused remembrances of George; he was nothing to her; he never had been anything; he had behaved abominably; she had never encouraged him.”  Even after Lucy has ended her engagement to Cecil, she refuses to admit to herself that it is because she loves George Emerson that she is fleeing to Greece.   Her feelings are complicated, and messy, and they would upset her friends and family, and so she ignores them, and shoves them aside.

As EM Forster goes on to explain, “The armour of falsehood is subtly wrought out of darkness, and hides a man not only from others, but from his own soul…”   It is only at the end, just before Lucy is to embark on a trip to Greece to get away from everything that Emerson’s father forces her to acknowledge her true feelings.  “As he spoke the darkness was withdrawn, veil after veil, and she saw to the bottom of her soul.”  When we read Room with a View, we can easily see what needs to be done, as we do when we give advice to friends.  But as Forster says, “Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”  We rarely see what is best for us, and as we stumble in the darkness, it is the lucky few who are able to follow their soul’s true desires.

Best,

Erica