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Free Advice


In the Los Angeles California International Airport, or "LAX" as we travelers call it, I came across a TV-screened machine which would typeset and print an instant business card, delivering fifty for five dollars. With time to kill before my Southwest flight to Tucson, I accepted the machine's challenge. Soon I found myself in this public service business.

My business card reads:

FREE ADVICE
ask al jensen
EXPERT consultant
ANY TIME ANY PLACE ANY PROBLEM

That is all. No address, phone number nor claim of omnipotence. No money back guarantee or limited warranty. No fine print at all... just simple black type with lots of white space. So plain it looks almost - funny?

People ask me for this card. They look at it, turn it over to see if there's some disclaimer on the back, smile or laugh nervously. Then many pocket or purse the card, saying "Can I keep this card?" They appear immediately warmed and comforted by thus possessing a ticket to pure untainted free advice should they later feel a need for unbiased counsel. And some soon seek it.

"How can you afford to give away such valuable answers?" they sometimes ask. I explain that as I am getting older I have accumulated a large fund of unused and unassigned advice. I cannot expect to carry it all onto the spirit plane. This is my endowment should they choose to draw upon it. Sharing will not wear it out or deplete it.<

Over the years I have made my full assortment of mistakes, or what I have been informed or intuited were mistakes. These have value. If made decisively, a single large mistake can fuel a decade of hard work and personal growth in support groups. Most older folks treasure their hardluck memories as secrets too dear to share. I offer mine as nuggets to be fondled, crushed or carried off. Money cannot buy them.

"Al, you could really sell your advice for Big Bucks," friends keep telling me. They do not see the underlying principle of freely giving. If my advice remains unpaid for, the recipient is completely free of obligation to take it. He/she can turn it around or upside down, shake it and bake it, or walk quietly away from it. There will never be a followup customer satisfaction survey nor a request from me for an endorsement or proof of purchase. I give advice without price.

Strangers have long come up to me to ask for directions, assistance and information. I am perceived as someone who works here wherever here is. It is my lifelong gift.

Since I am wired to respond to any question, I have become quite adept at extemporizing a response to almost any query aired in my presence. Now I have merely formalized that capability.

Once a friend of mine, an executive in a nurses organization, complained privately that people kept mistaking the intent of her occasional request for an opinion. "They keep telling me what to do," she said. "I know what to do. I just want their advice!" This is another service I often can provide: free advice which is obviously not meant to be taken. Seriously offered and kindly given, this can prove the most valuable of all to recipient and giver. It should of course never be in written form.

Another favorite technique is to respond with advice I am waiting to offer someone, anybody, because it is bubbling onto my tongue. The bewildering effect of such a direct indirect response is often sufficient to open a new channel of thought. Wise counsel is fabricated in the harried search for any understanding of my response in the waning light of the original question. Or the reverse. Restating a problem to fit it to my logically-presented guidance often leads a free counselee to an innovative conclusion. We then express surprise and mutual delight. Serendipity prevails.

My warehouses in the rear are also stocked deep with my unused advice, some acquired free and some hard-paid for, which I have received over the years, and saved as good as new. Poured on me by helpful relatives, friends, neighbors and business associates, this array of virgin advice is mostly recyclable even now. In fact, some seems to have fermented more validity as it moldered untilled in deep storage. Now it is ready to be harvested at last. Someone can make use of that advice before it blows away in final entropy. Hooray!

My professionalizing of this free advice service has value to me and to my customers alike. It reduces the hazard of my being regarded as simply "another old busybody who thinks he knows all about everything." Now I am buttressed by a title, a profession and a current occupation. This frees the troubled or the timid to seek my help and obtain free advice without incurring loss of their self-esteem. Indeed, their possessing such a professional relationship whose advice can be publicly dismissed may actually firm up a quivering mass of self-esteem.

To anticipate one final shy question: Yes, people do now come to me to help themselves. They know I am a pro. My card has assured them so. They know of no one else to talk with who doesn't bill by the quarter-hour or want a new Mercedes. If they do have one good source, they may seek a second free opinion. Fine. I'm free just now.

This later life career promises to become a long one. Why should I retire?

A. B. Jensen

April 1995


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