Information Is Better Than Advice

Some people are overly judgmental and don’t know how to give proper advice.  I’m talking about arrogant people who think they can tell you how to live your specific life without actually knowing all the details of what you’ve experienced in your past or may even continue to experience in the present.  I’m talking about people who are shallow and witness a certain behavior in you that they perceive as problematic (because they don’t do it themselves) and then think they can fix you by simply telling you to be more like them.

To hell with these people.  Let me use cigarette smoking as an example situation (even though I personally don’t smoke).

An example of bad advice is listening to a few brief details about a cigarette smoker’s life and then concluding (rather arrogantly), “I can see you have problems in your life, but you should really quit smoking.”  Shut up.  You don’t know what it’s like to live that person’s life.  All you really know is that smoking is “bad”, but maybe that person’s life is even worse without the smoking.  Maybe it’s a lesser evil.

Another example of bad advice is telling a smoker every time you see him/her, “You should really quit smoking.”  Again, shut up.  The person heard you the first time.  Unless he/she is causing a public nuisance by exhaling his/her smoke into other people’s lungs, then he/she is an intelligent adult who can make his/her own decisions.  For all you know this person has some sort of chronic anxiety that smoking might help him/her deal with.  While it’s true that smoking may eventually do permanent physical damage and make the person’s life even worse, don’t just repeat the same negative mantra to him/her over and over again.  At least add some useful information, and if you have no such information then don’t waste time saying anything.  Repetition is not an intelligent way to solve a problem, and when it’s a problem in another person’s private life you are frankly just badgering and harassing that person, and that’s insulting to any adult who can think for him/herself.

An example of good advice is telling a smoker (once), “You know that smoking is unhealthy and can cause … health problems, right?”  Maybe the person really doesn’t know the consequences of his/her actions and could benefit from that information.  When you give a person information, he/she is free to make his/her own decisions.  That’s the key to criticizing a person and respecting him/her at the same time:  the acknowledgment of free will.

(But sometimes you should really just be quiet altogether.  There is a point in the course of direct social interaction when criticism simply becomes unpleasant and rude.)

About Matthew Chiglinsky

I try to question everything.
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