Seneca advised that people should allow only those to influence them “who teach us by their lives, who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it by practice, who show us what we should avoid, and then are never caught doing that which they have ordered us to avoid.”
Taken to the extreme–this could effectively eliminate all of our mentors (except Jesus). For none of us is completely free of hypocrisy. None of us perfectly practice what we preach. His advice stands: Be careful whom you allow to influence you. Integrity matters a lot.
Sometimes we’re tempted to seek advice from the wrong voices. Perhaps we’re looking for empathy–someone who understands because they’ve been through a similar trial. We see this happen sometimes with people who are in unhappy marriages–they may gravitate toward others in similar situations, even building a significant portion of their friendship around their commiseration.
It’s a trap.
I have a friend who has a test–kind of like quick background check that he’ll run before he seeks or follows the advice from a friend. He asks himself: “Would I trade places with them?” In other words, “Do I admire their wisdom and values?”
I think his test echos Seneca’s wisdom above. If you know that your friend has a history of questionable judgment–why ask for their advice? If you don’t deeply respect their wisdom, why seek it? Wisdom admires wisdom, and seeks to emulate it. Folly disdains wisdom, mocks it, and looks for a group of friends who will reinforce their own foolishness.