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Your Advice Is Unsolicited for a Reason

March 18, 2012

I know a lot of words. I know how to choose them and how to form them into sentences, such as “What should I do?” or “What would you do?” or “Do you think I should . . .?”

If I haven’t asked for an opinion, it’s not because I don’t know how. It’s because I know my life better than you do, and I haven’t picked you as someone whose advice I want. If you’re the sort of person feels entitled to offer advice when it hasn’t been asked for, you have just shown yourself to be someone with terrible judgment. Why would anyone listen to you?

Gene Weingarten believes you shouldn’t be insulted by false statements. Someone calls your sister a whore? What do you care, if she isn’t? According to him, you should only be offended if she is a whore. That makes no sense to me. The person is telling the truth. You may be unhappy about the truth, but it’s not the speaker’s fault that the truth is what it is.

I think people are most offended when something isn’t true, but they are afraid that it is. Tell me I’m fat? Yes, I am, no argument. Tell me I’m stupid? No, I’m not.

Tell me I’m a bad mother? I realize, rationally, that I’m not. But the thought that I am screwing up something so important eats at me. Why can’t I manage to help my kid through his troubles on my own? Why did we have to call in professionals? And given that we did, should we have done it sooner?

So when I say that I dread family vacations, or that making sure my kids do their chores wears me down, the last thing I want to hear is that I need to plan carefully! Or get input from all the affected parties! Or lower my standards! Or raise them! Or any of a host of other totally obvious techniques. No matter how hard I try to see those comments as well-intentioned efforts to be helpful, what I hear behind them is, “Wow, this person has no judgment at all. I shall ride in and save her, heroically.” The desire to offer advice when none has been requested may be kindly meant, but I think it’s a chance to show off: I have your situation figured out and you don’t. The second part is true, granted. But trust me, the first part is not.

Please be advised: Stating the obvious is not helpful.


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