When the Messenger Kills the Message

A doctor holding a cigarette can hardly convince you to stop smoking. If an envoy armed to the teeth talks of ceasefire and peace, those words will sound hollow.

Anyone can tell you there’s a new letter in your mailbox, and you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. All you have to do is go and check. But some messages only the right messenger can deliver. When the stakes are our identity, a random delivery-man-for-hire won’t — and shouldn’t — do the trick.

There are two lessons in this dynamic. The first is obvious: Be careful who you listen to. Marriage advice from a woman who’s been divorced three times might not be the most dependable.

The second is about the important messages you deliver: Make sure you’re entitled to pass them on. Don’t hand out life-changing advice you haven’t tried. If you really want to be of service, first become the messenger you need to be in order for your story to stick.

After all, the most powerful messages are the ones we don’t need to hear at all. Make us see and emulate rather than listen and follow — and where you can’t, perhaps it’s best to let someone else deliver the message.