Sunday, February 15, 2015

Good Advice

I have a pretty simple and firm policy about giving personal advice to the people in my life: I don't give it unless I'm asked for it, and then sometimes not even when I am.

The expression that best embodies this philosophy is "free advice is worth what you pay for it." I don't think I'm immune from that, because I never presume to know what another person should do in any given situation.

In case you haven't noticed, the world is chock full of people who want to give you unsolicited advice, on topics ranging from the consequential to the mundane: you should break up with that person; you should buy or sell that house; you should or shouldn't take a certain job; you should change your cable package; you should eat this way; raise your kids that way; exercise this way; eat that way; quit this habit; start that habit, etc. 

There's a fine line between unsolicited advice and a recommendation. The latter is a neutral referral. The former is a presumptuous (albeit usually well intended) indictment of the way someone is currently living their life. 

The red flag is a delivery that begins with the person telling an anecdote about themselves, followed by "you should...", and culminating in a long string of assumptions that the advice-giver knows the right way to do things in all circumstances.

I don't view that as a particularly helpful approach to problem solving, because it's too uniform and too judgmental.

From time to time, everyone needs help thinking through the problems and issues in their life. When someone asks me for my advice, I try to see the situation from their perspective, rather than my own. It doesn't help to give another person advice that fails to take their unique perspective into account.

So here's my advice:  Unless someone asks you for advice, don't give it. And if they do ask, think about what might actually apply to them as a unique individual, in their own unique set of circumstances.

Yes, that is my free advice. And it's worth exactly what you just paid for it.

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