Sunday, January 28, 2007

If I Were You: Some Free Advice About Free Advice

I have mentioned before that the flower shop where I work is a magnet for folks with nothing better to do--I call them the shop groupies. They're people who stop by and linger for a few minutes or an hour or, in the case of K, the unemployed Drama Queen, all day several days a week. Some days, I want to crawl under the futon we keep in the office and hide from them all. But most days, they're a big part of what makes my job tolerable at all.

In our office, my chair is tucked into a corner behind my desk, which has shelves that provide something of a hiding place for me. And I will often hide there, tucked away, not commenting on the subject of choice--politics, religion, celebrity gossip, exes, in-laws, ex-in-laws--but definitely taking notes. I don't comment mostly because the issues are often the sort that boil down to a matter of opinion and I don't believe it's my job to change someone else's opinion--plus, even after eight years on the job (and therefore in most of these people's lives), I'm a little shy.

One afternoon, we had several people gathered in the tiny office and one of them was ranting on and on about her sister-in-law, a woman who by all accounts is extremely annoying--self-centered, rude, argumentative, whiny. Another person spoke up and said, "I would tell my brother that bitch isn't welcome in my house."*

Now, there's little doubt in my mind that this particular person would tell her brother that--and she would be proud of it and she would probably enjoy it thoroughly--effects on the rest of the family be damned. But, I also look at this person's life--and the fact that she has three brothers who are in no way part of her daily (or even weekly) life--and I think to myself, "Okay, here are the results of being the sort of person who tells her brother that his bitchy wife isn't welcome in her house."

Maybe Advice Giver in this situation is content with being contacted by one of her three brothers once a year and by the other two even less often--maybe a close relationship with her siblings isn't a priority to her--and that's certainly her perogative. But let's leave room for the Ranter in the above situation to want a different outcome--let's let Ranter rant safely in the relative privacy of the office of the flower shop so that she has some hope of continuing to fake it with her Psycho Sister-in-Law and thereby maintain her relationship with her brother which may be more important to her than the momentary satisfaction of telling the brother what she really thinks of his wife.

Have you ever noticed that the most avid advice givers--the ones who give it whether it's asked for or not--are often the most outwardly miserable people among us? Advice Giver above may never admit that she regrets driving so many people from her life (it's certainly not limited to her siblings), but from the outside, it's not hard to see the result of offering unsolicited and often unconsidered--she's a good one for popping off in the heat of the moment, but too stubborn to go back later and admit she was wrong--opinions to everyone around you.

My advice on advice? Consider the source--look at your advisor's life. When they say, "If I were you--" their own lives are, at least theoretically, where they put their "wisdom" to work. If they don't live by their own wisdom, that says something quite clearly about the value of that wisdom or at least about the advisor's tendency toward hypocrisy.

Unsolicited advice is especially suspect. In general, people content with their own lives don't feel compelled to meddle in other's lives.** In other words, the people with some real wisdom are more likely to mind their own business while those a little too confident in their own common sense are all too often happy to share the wealth.

So look at the person whose advice you're considering--is her life something worth emulating? Or is she alone more often than not? Unhappy as a matter of habit? Is she the sort of person you duck down the dairy aisle to avoid in the grocery store? Is she someone worthy of your respect and admiration? If not, then she probably doesn't know any better than you do. All this advisory meddling is probably just a ploy to distract herself from her own bitter and hollow life.

*There are doubtless circumstances in which a bitch, be she my brother's wife or not, would not be welcome in my house as well and I would definitely say so, if for instance, she were a threat to my children or my sanity, etc. But the bitchy, psycho sister-in-law in question is bitchy more in petty and silly ways--ways that I would just try to see as the price we pay for having people other than ourselves in our lives.

**The exception is professional advice givers like Dr. Phil, who's a favorite of mine--if by favorite you mean someone whom I would duck down the dairy aisle to avoid in the grocery store. Dr. Phil is clearly not an unhappy man and yet he continues to spew advice on a regular basis--and why shouldn't he? He's become fabulously wealthy by pointing out the obvious to people too dense to figure it out for themselves.

1 comment:

  1. I needed to hear this. Some unsolicited "free" advice has just sent me into a complete tailspin over our upcoming move. In a situation where I know so little, it's hard to filter out good, useful information from useless bitchy information. I wish it were easier.

    And you are entirely too nice to me and I appreciate it more than you know. I'm coming to the end of my patience with the crappiest week I have had in a long while. Thanks.