Dad and J sit across from Mom and I. I’m telling them something about my day, prompted by my father’s nightly question, “What’s one thing you learned today?” I can’t remember what I said, but I remember my father’s response, “Where did you learn that?”
“I read it in a book.”
“Well, that’s not right.”
“But I read it in a book. It has to be right if it’s written down.”
“Not everything we read is true, Andi. It’s just not.”
That was a life-altering piece of wisdom for me. It taught me to question what I read and hear. It taught me not to take every piece of criticism I receive to heart.
It is also one of the very few pieces of direct advice I ever remember receiving from my parents. They gave me tons of guidance, and they lived their lives in such a way that I have never wanted for amazing role models. But they were not the kind of people to dispense advice lightly. They knew that most of us learn better from own our mistakes, and to do this day, they have never failed to be there after I make them – to help me pick up the pieces and to give me comfort and laughter to heal.
Perhaps this decision on their part – to model rather than to advise – is what makes me bristle so much against unsolicited advice. I have a trusted coterie of friends who I regularly seek wisdom from – about writing, about life, about how to make the perfect holiday cookie – and sometimes, I’ll even shout out into the wilderness of Facebook for advice on more menial things – like coupons or where to find a beaded curtain. But I don’t often appreciate unsolicited advice on things close to my heart when it comes from people I don’t know well. Anyone else find this to be true for them?
Yet, I’m seeing more and more of it these days – critiques of art or experiences in the comments on blogs, comments about how to “buck up” in the face of immense pain, suggestions about how to improve life or politics or websites or income through emails. I’m sure people are well-intentioned, but when I see these things my hackles go up a bit – when did we start thinking we all had the invitation to comment on everyone else’s life?
I suppose it was when we all started sharing so much of our lives on social media, when it become normal to update the universe on our dating/marriage statuses and the travails of our children at school, when we started finding our support from people we barely know. Maybe this willingness to critique one another is just another result of the “all access pass” we seem to have in each other’s lives now.
I know that I sometimes fall into this idea because it feels like if that information is going to be a part of my day, I should be able to address it as I see fit. But then, I realize, I wouldn’t say these trite things or offer this “suggestion” of a change in approach if I was talking with someone face to face because if we were sharing coffee, I would know that this person just needs a warm hand on the arm, someone to see his tears, someone to celebrate that great news. Not advice, not suggestions, just friendship.
I hope this stage passes. I hope we begin to realize that when a friend laments that she is so weary of her illness that she simply wonders why she has to live, she isn’t asking for us to give her the “good soldier” speech or suggest she get therapy. She just wants to know it’s okay to be disappointed about life and to hear we are with her in the walk. When he puts up his new book for release, he wants a million “likes” and a thousand “congratulations,” but not even one, “that price point seems too high” or “why didn’t you self-publish? I hope we begin to realize that online – as is true in all of life – most of us just want role models to follow and people who will hug us, prop us up when we need it, and give us a huge “yahoo” on those spectacular days when something goes just perfectly right.
Have you ever received unsolicited advice? How did you respond?
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