Unsolicited advice

Once upon a time, when western people lived in communities and had a vague idea of what was going on in each other’s lives, perhaps unsolicited advice worked. At least the knowledge of local resources would have been relevant, and knowledge of the context helpful. Express any kind of difficulty in any area of your life on social media and a bunch of self proclaimed well meaning people will pile in and tell you what to do about it.

I have learned, the hard way, that if I just want people to cut me some slack and send me pictures of kittens, it is best to be vague about the problem and specific about the kittens. Well meaning advice from people who do not know my history, circumstances or hopes is at best, usually useless. Often it’s also demoralising, and counterproductive. The more aggressively/enthusiastically it’s pushed, the more uncomfortable it becomes.

Back in the imaginary village, my pretend people do not say ‘oh, you need to get more and less exercise, become a vegan, eat more red meat, drink more water, drink less water, sleep more, get out more, be more positive, be more realistic, get a proper job…’ Instead they say ‘want to come over for tea?’ or ‘I could look after your kids for an evening.’ In fairness, out here in the real world those things still happen. Online, if you are suffering, people will tell you (sometimes order you) to fix yourself and it’s a lot rarer to get actual offers of real help.

I do find it helpful when people share their stories. Not least there is no dogma, necessarily in ‘this is what happened to me’. There can be the relief of empathy and understanding, and some clues about what to do, or not do. I’ve yet to find a situation in which there is one solution that totally works for everyone. Problems are complex, answers, and even the degree of answer available, can vary a lot. What looks like a good outcome for one person can be totally intolerable to another.

The thing about dishing out advice (and I know this only too well because I’m doing it) is that it feels like you’ve done something useful. Dying of cancer? Never mind that I know nothing… have some advice. Heartbroken? Have some advice. Ill with a mystery thing that is wrecking your life? Advice. Abuse victim? Advice. Those things are scary. We don’t want them happening to us. We want to believe that we know how to avoid and overcome those things, especially if we don’t. We want to feel useful, powerful, on top of it. We give unsolicited, uninformed advice all too often not because it has any chance of helping the person hearing it, but so as to feel like we did something, and to tell ourselves that we do not have to fear this happening to us.

So here’s my bit of unsolicited advice for today: It is ok to be uncomfortable in the face of suffering. It is ok not to know what to do. Often ‘here if you need me’ is of far more real value than anything you’ve read online that offers an impossible cure to an intractable problem. And pictures of kittens.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Unsolicited advice

  • pennyblake

    ‘I CAN FIX YOU!’ is one of my pet hate things too, although I know I’m also guilty of it sometimes I try so hard not to because it really annoys hell out of me. If I ever give you unwanted advice please please please hit me with an ice pick!

  • Stacey Armstrong

    Hi Nimue,
    I have only commented once before. Online is a very strange place/not place. I ate a very large piece of cake yesterday and thought about you and your on-going Work! Have you read any George Eliot or Jane Austen lately? A few times when I have been out in my garden lately I think about some of the ideas and feelings you write about here. I am more of a Dorothea than a Maggie and more of an Eleanor than a Marianne. And though we are a long way from each other, I imagine you might have wondered how and why some people remind you of Rosamund and others of Mary Garth. I obviously have a wish for an actual Neighbor that has read Eliot and Austen. Sorry if this seems non-sensical to you…it’s probably very out of context. I think about village life a lot too and when it is appropriate to ethically offer comfort and in what form it should take.

    Best. Stacey

  • landisvance

    So shall I send pix of kittenx? You know I am always here for you otherwise!

  • caelesti

    I also feel like people/society has this expectation that you are socially obliged to be completely healthy, happy and “productive” (or at least appear that way) Some people call this “healthism”
    http://www.thehealthculture.com/2012/02/what-is-healthism-part-one/
    I try not to give advice to people when I don’t them very well, don’t know their situation etc. Esp. after getting loads of (often useless) advice from people about job-hunting. Seriously, I could make a bingo card!

  • verdant1

    Reblogged this on verdant and commented:
    Some good advice about advice:

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