What is it that compels people to offer unsolicited advice? I’ve written about this before but it’s worth writing some more. Unless I ask for it, I don’t like receiving advice. Most of my friends and family know this about me, so when I do get unasked-for advice, it’s from people who don’t know me well.
Recently, for example, a new woman in yoga overheard me explaining to the teacher why I shouldn’t be pushed on the lower spine (the beginnings of bone loss). I already had a funny feeling about this woman, since I’d heard her advising others and I could tell she was listening in. Sure enough, she moves in closer and starts to tell me about a magic herb cure. I cut her off, telling her I wasn’t into herbs and preferred treatments that were tested and proven safe and effective. I then walked out.
In retrospect, I wish I had calmly replied, “I am satisfied with my current treatment.” Let it go at that. The incident made me think about advice giving after a long period of being blissfully free on the receiving end. I even Googled it.
According to what I read (admittedly not totally scientific), most people do NOT like unsolicited advice. So I am not alone here. Only a handful said things like, “I am always learning so I welcome new information” or “The universe is bringing me what I need.” Whatever. If they are perpetually 15 or grew up in a cave, I understand.
It takes awhile to get our bearings in life, to figure out what makes us happy, healthy, what’s important, what work we enjoy, how to take care of ourselves. Some figure it out sooner and give out vibes – no advice needed! (Or maybe they become advice givers, personally or professionally.) Some, me included, are late bloomers and look to many sources for learning – exercise, discussion and support groups, therapy, retreats, reading, fellow travelers, pills, martinis.
I think during this blooming time, which coincided with the colorful, experimental seventies, I listened to a lot of advice! I deliberately put myself in the way of know-it-alls. Dated and even married men who recommended careers, writing styles, how I should handle my sons. Hung out with a few girlfriends who insisted I would benefit from Buddhism or EST being louder. I willingly embraced nuggets of advice, at least long enough to examine them and decide if they made sense to me.
Then I reached a saturation point. Enough already! I gradually realized I’m living the way I want to and feel content most of the time. I like the word contentment better than happiness, since it seems more realistically human, embracing self-acceptance and gratitude, even if we have days of sadness, regret or frustration. Yes, I may need a shoulder to cry on sometimes, or a sympathetic ear, but not necessarily a bunch of babbling “shoulds.”
Does this need to tell others what to do come from a good place? A desire to help a friend? Perhaps. But I also think it comes from a need to alleviate anxiety. To solve problems and thus feel in control. Men do it because they are brought up to be take-charge protectors. However, women do it too.
And sometimes those who offer advice do so because they don’t want to look inward. Easier to solve the problems of others than their own. I admit I have done this mentally, more in the past. Getting older has helped me focus on what I can do with my remaining time and less on self-righteously planning what my friends should be doing. So I try very hard not to offer advice and to ask first if I think of an idea.
And thus my annoyance, after years of being a patient listener, on the receiving end of so much blather. Shut up, already. There is room for no more. If I need help expanding my mind or improving my life, I’ll ask, but in all honesty I prefer to learn on my own.
What I really wanted to ask that woman was, “Why do you think I need medical advice? Are you a medical doctor? Do I have a sign on me that says, Know nothing. Soliciting your infinite wisdom?”
This morning as I left yoga she was busy advising the teacher on how to teach a pose.