The Dark Hole of Giving Advice

*** Some unsavory language exists here. Not much, but you have been advised. ***

I run the risk of being hypocritical when writing about the pitfalls of giving advice. You, kind and flattering as you are, asked me to expand upon my reservations when I took a detour from my typical and established genre to assail you with my various opinions and musing about loneliness in the city.

So, here I begin the arduous meta-task of giving advice about giving advice.

Yesterday, I mentioned giving advice “at its worst leads to unintended consequences and at its best is self-congratulatory.” Let me distinguish the stratifications of the rocky proposition.

Leads to Unintended Consequences

Life is full of punishing ironies, and applying the same advice to every case yields undesirable results. I wouldn’t advise the cannibal to “be yourself,” just as I wouldn’t address the deranged mugger with the sloganised wisdom of “just do it.” In the same court of conventional jurisprudence,  I must weigh the facts specific to each matter.

Language too is a significant factor which can play both ways. I sometimes opt for the concise way of saying things with the hopes of it being easily understood. Even when you have good intentions, refusing an unscrupulous businessman a sum of money by telling him “don’t take it personally” may come back to haunt you during the hostile takeover.

Wide dissemination of your advice increases the risk of it being followed outside the scope or context of your original intentions. You, therefore, must weigh the risk of sharing your knowledge, giving it exclusively, or not giving it at all. I took the risk, for better or worse, when I decided to share my opinions on the city. In doing so, I may well be forced to vomit after eating so many of my own words.

At its Best is Self-Congratulatory

How many times have you asked a friend for their advice on your problem only to have them relay a story about themselves? One draws on their own experience to enumerate a reply, but I really don’t care how you got drunk and made yourself look stupid. Instead, highlight the details of the story and see if you can’t find advice for them and their problem.

Worse yet is the case of one-upping another person.  “Oh, you got drunk and made out with a stranger? Well, my friend was wasted, made out with a stranger, and shit themselves.” Tell me, how does this help the other person? In fact, this particularly nasty example contains the sinister undertone of it could be worse. Remember: just because you tell someone it could be worse, doesn’t make their present any better.

Self-gratification is a byproduct of providing advice – whether it is sought or not. I sometimes find the exercise in overt narcissism validating, so I’ll advise without cause. Even more affirming, liberally giving your knowledge to those who solicit it.

You must polish and shine the boots of your advisory statement before marching it onward. And be wary of yourself when next you enlighten those without cause. Everyone you notice espousing maxims in a fountain like burble should be suspect as well.

Who knows? They might even lie about having their opinion sought in the first place.


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