How NOT to Give Advice

I saw another one of those articles floating around Facebook earlier.

“10 Things Non-Parents Shouldn’t Say to Parents”

Guess what?

It was written by a new parent.

You’ve probably seen other examples. Aside from hundreds of other versions of the one above (there’s a lot of vitriol between parents and non-parents on the internets), maybe…

“How to Avoid Being an Insensitive Jerk About Fertility” (from someone having trouble conceiving)

“How Not to Piss Off Runners” (by a runner fed up with pedestrians)

“10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Unemployed” (by someone who’s, you guessed it, unemployed)

See the pattern? These articles are pretty much always written from the point of view of one group giving (unsolicited) advice to another group. They are almost as bad as the “X Things Everyone Must Do by Age X” articles that I can’t stand.

Look, I get it. I’ve mentally written “How Not to Piss Off Runners” dozens of times, every time I have to jump into the road to get around a group of pedestrians or almost get hit by a car turning right (have you noticed that when you turn right, you spend almost the entire turn looking left, towards the traffic you’re merging into? Ignoring possible runners or pedestrians from the other direction?). I never have and never will *actually* write that, though. Because it will accomplish nothing except make me sound like a self-righteous, egomaniacal jerk. And probably piss off pedestrians and right-turning drivers who may even go out of their way next time to do something I’ve explicitly said *not* to do.

At best, I think people write these articles because they want to draw attention to whatever situation they’re in (parenthood, single-hood, unemployment, battling a disease/mental disorder/medical condition) and get people to be more considerate. They want support and affirmation and commiseration from others who are in their “group.”

At worst, they are self-righteous and self-serving, born out of selfish frustration and whiny entitlement. They’re SO DAMN SICK of getting asked the same questions, or responding to the same comments, over and over and over and why won’t people stop talking about it?

There are 3 reasons why these articles don’t work/suck/are horribly annoying.

people are just dealing with their own shit

Most people aren’t trying to be inconsiderate or rude or insensitive. I mean, some certainly are, but I’ve found that very, very rarely is anyone’s actions or words towards you motivated by malice (unless you’re a girl in junior high). Most people are well-meaning and trying to be nice, or at least, just doing their best to make it through their day without engaging in adversity or causing conflict.

people have no idea about your shit

I have a story. In high school, I briefly worked for a small Hallmark-type gift store — for the last 8 months or so before it closed. It had been around for years and years and had many (older) loyal customers. (We sold Precious Moments figurines and other little collectibles, to give you an idea of the clientele.) For the last couple months, once the closing was announced and we started putting everything on sale, so many customers would come in and say to me “Oh, it’s so sad you’re closing! You’ve been here for years! I remember blahblahblah…”

And 16-year-old me only cared because I would need to find a new way to earn gas money for my sweet hand-me-down tan Camry. I tried to be polite and helpful and courteous, but after hearing “it’s so sad!” for the 40th time in my 4-hour shift, I probably gave a few less-than-sympathetic responses to those customers.

Here’s the thing. The 20th customer who expressed sadness at the store closing? Did not know how many people had already said the exact same thing to me. She was genuinely expressing an honest thought that she’d thought/heard once. That’s all.

you can't change people, only yourself

Guys, this is in, like, every single self-help book ever published. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way about a bazillion times and one of the best pieces of advice my dad’s ever given me (and he’s had quite a few gems over the years).

So instead of writing these self-righteous pieces of advice and tips, and then writing rebuttals and reactions and piling on back and forth (seriously, do people really experience this much discord between parents and non-parents? My friends who are parents are still pretty cool and seem to still like us childless ones), can we all try to practice a little humility and empathy?

If you *must* share some unsolicited advice, may I recommend sharing it with your own group? For example:

“How to Graciously Deal with Well-Meaning Guests as a New Mother”

“How to Accept Walkers and Not Let Them Ruin Your Run”

“How to Handle People Who Ask Personal Questions About Your Medical Condition”

But mainly, empathy and humility. And maybe when you have kids, or have friends who have kids, don’t just suddenly assume you’re now at odds with each other?


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