Unsolicited advice. Don’t we love it. As times become more fraught, our old assumptions begin making asses of us all; but luckily there’s people who always have an opinion. I used to be one of those. The guy who out of civic pragmatism just wanted to help. I confess sometimes I also just wanted people to shut the fuck up: “Should I have a schnitzel with salad or fries?” they’d cry, “Ohmygod, I’m supposed to be on a diet! What shall I do?” My helpful was always “Like you’ve ever said no to fries!” but, you know, as internal monologue. What actually came out of my mouth was super-supportive: “Oh go on! Have the chips! You only live once!” I live to make others happy. And shut them up.

But let’s be honest, have you ever known anyone NOT to give advice. We love it. In doing so, the helpful advisor usually gets to scratch one of four (4) private itches. The first is altruism. True friends do this. And mothers. They genuinely want to help, and they get upset if their do-gooding gets rejected or spurned. Your mother really does want you to eat the fries. While your somewhat less-accepting father might frown, your mother actually believes you’re beautiful right up to the day they chainsaw away a wall in order to forklift your lifeless cadaver from the bed in which you spent your final twenty years. Like some fries-eating Jabba the Hutt. You’d want your dad to speak up more, is what I’m saying.

A second reason for giving unwanted advice is because the advisor actually has the answer. “Salad or fries??” triggers a well-meaning but slightly condescending explication on macro v micronutrients and the scientifically-proven benefits of a diet that’s rich in plant-based phytonutrients. You’ll walk away with the correct answer, but also a slight sense of being intellectually ambushed. The advisor departs the scene with a sense that the universe has been righted, an errant atom corrected. You’re actually very likely to encounter an introvert in this scenario. Drinking deep from the mystic font of erudition as they do, intros often have good answers to life’s curly problems. But they don’t often get asked. And given how unlikely you are to elicit unsolicited advice from an introvert, don’t ask any supplementary questions because they probably need to lie down now.

Number three reason for giving unsought advice follows the slippery-slope away from pure altruism. Sometimes advice is given to you by folk who DO NOT have the answer. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Expect these hand-grenades from opinionated extroverts who need to fill every silent moment with babble. What all that talk does is create a feedback loop. If they hear themselves say something three times and (a) it doesn’t sound obviously stupid, or (b) doesn’t sound obviously impossible, then, hey! it’s the truth until somebody proves otherwise! A conglomerate of bias, hyperbole and outright fabrication, be wary unless you’re familiar with the source. If it’s just your old dad spouting his nonsense, pat him on the head and make him a nice grilled-cheese sandwich.

The last of the four is definitely the worst. Unsolicited advice is sometimes proffered for deeply selfish reasons. Selfishly banal as the mean girlfriend (“Yeah! Eat the fries! Eat the fries AND the salad!“) who wants to look hotter in group selfies standing next to you, or as malevolently selfish as the psychopathic workmate edging you towards french fries-induced atherosclerosis so he can get your office when you die of a massive heart attack. I’d laugh, but I’ve met these people. People who *often* know the answer, but spin some slick lie instead. A lie that drops you into the shit with the boss, or creates friction with your spouse, or just sets you down a rocky path. Despite their wide-eyed protests, they’re not sorry, they’re never sorry, and yes they’ll ill-advise you again in a heartbeat. Cull these motherfuckers from your life, they’re poison.

There’s probably a fifth group, but like Freemasons you’d rarely know you’re talking to one. Examples include the accountant who gives insider-trading tainted advice to build ‘your’ wealth, or the agent who suggests a ‘celebrity sex-tape’ type scandal to lift your profile as an influencer. Their advice could make or break you, but either way there’s no going back, because they’ve already sprung the trap. Like taking a favour from Xi Jinping — guanxi — it becomes the gift that never stops taking. Accepting advice from anyone in this group is like waking from a bad dream and realising you’ve ended up in Jeffrey Epstein’s basement. You’re part of his circle now, or you’re the soggy biscuit. Aren’t you, Donald.

Leave a Reply