Some Advice... on Advice

Here's my advice: Unless someone explicitly asks for your advice, do not offer advice. Maybe not even then.

When I tell someone about a problem I'm having, that is not equivalent to asking for advice. I am communicating to be heard and understood. I do not want or need someone else to solve my problems, unless I specifically ask for that. Even if I lay out a problem and ask, "What should I do?" How do you know what I should do? Are you a doctor? A psychiatrist? A God? Thee God? A professional in a field related to the problem? If yes, by all means, feel free to bequeath your advice. No? How about turn it back to me and ask questions that will help me discover the answer myself.

Really, do you want to be on the hook when your advice is taken and the result is terrible? Do you want credit when the result is awesome? Do you want to be in the business of controlling the puppet strings of other people's lives? Are you really, "just trying to help"? Do you think it is helpful to aid someone in avoiding making their own decisions or taking responsibility for their own life?

If all else fails, try empathy. What do you want from others when you share a problem? Do you want to be heard, understood, reminded that you're not alone, and then figure out your own path? Or do you want others to steer your life for you while you grow increasingly disempowered and helpless? 

No pressure. I'll wait right here.

Self-sufficiency builds upon itself. It is less prone to blame, guilt, resentment, and other emotional gremlins.

I realize a lot of people do relate problems with the expectation that they'll be given free advice, but I would be ever so grateful if we could all lose that expectation. 

Nobody ever knows your life better than you do. Nobody ever knows what fresh hell it is to be you every day, what you personally struggle against or yearn for, and there really isn't enough time to go over all of the possible scenarios. Life's too short.

When I tell somebody about something and it even remotely sounds like I'm conveying a conflict or a question I'm trying to answer or a sense of unsureness about a direction to take, if they come back with, "Well maybe you could..." or "Have you tried..." or, amazingly, "I think you should..."

Oh. My god. I want to stop them right there and point out, "There are not enough hours in a day to go over all of the possibilities that you could offer because your imagination isn't even constrained by what I already know about my self and my life, so we could be here literally forever while you offer All The Options." I have no interest in walking down an endless road volleying back, "Well, that won't work because..." or "Right, yeah, maybe I'll try that..." or "Sure, I guess that's possible..." (because I am dealing with 20 other issues that you don't know about that prevent me from taking that route and some are so embarrassing that I won't even admit them to myself so you'll never understand why your options are not options for me.)

Maybe you're a problem-solver at work or for your kids or family, so it's hard for you to know when to turn it off. I do it too sometimes. When I catch myself, I like to point out what I've done, even though people sometimes don't take offense or it doesn't occur to them that what I've just done is conveyed to them that I think I know better than them what options are worth pursuing in their life. It's as if I've said, "Here, I'll do it... just let me... I'll do it myself! There, now your problem is fixed. I helped! I'm a helper. I fix other people's lives and problems and it makes me feel valuable and valid and props up my self-esteem."

Truly the greatest gift someone can give me when I tell them about a problem I'm dealing with is to listen and convey to me that they understand what I'm saying and how the problem is affecting me. That's it. Simple.

If I want someone's advice, I will ask with respect and humility, "I'd like to hear your perspective on an issue I'm dealing with, I'm open to hearing your advice if you're open to offering it." It's an honoring, it's a measure of respect to someone to say, 'I am interested in your feedback'. It is the opposite to go around offering your advice and perspective when people are not asking for it.

Sometimes we need to ask for help, and ideally, we shouldn't feel any shame in doing so. It really is just an extra problem that usually doesn't need to be there. It feels great to be able to help others... just ask all the free advice givers out there how much they love helping others. We should help those who ask for it when we can. But, offering advice that someone didn't ask for is not helping. It is not listening, it is hearing someone but then turning it into your own problem. It is taking, not giving.

The Wikipedia entry for advice contains these pertinent passages:

"In some cultures advice is socially unacceptable to be released unless requested. In other cultures advice is given more openly ... Many people consider unrequested advice to be paternalistic and patronizing and are thus offended.

"Therefore, some people may come to the conclusion that advice is morally better to be left out of the equation altogether, and this theory is included within the following quote (author unknown): The best advice is this: Don't take advice and don't give advice."

It's rude. And just so you know, in my mind, every time someone offers me advice I didn't ask for, this is what I'm thinking:

I don't remember asking you a goddamned thing.