THE BLOG

Flair for the Obvious: Oh Shut Up!

"You should contact Oprah!" I'd be a rich woman if I had a dollar every time someone said that to me. "Brilliant! I've never thought of that. I'll just call her up this second," I think sarcastically. But I just nod and say, "Call her for me, won't you?" Of course every activist, writer or project-oriented human being on the planet has thought about appearing on Oprah. Does the dispenser of that particular piece of advice think we hadn't ever thought of it? At the risk of being considered a complete misanthrope, may I chime in on behalf of the more polite among us who are ready to strangle the next person who gives us utterly obvious, unsolicited and nincompoop advice?

Is it just me, or is there an enormous surplus of people who think they are on this earth to give advice? Has it always been this way or do I just notice it more now? I can't remember there being as many meddlesome mini-Dr. Phil's and foolish faux Dear Abby types, running around telling people "you should do this," or "you should do that," when I was younger. Maybe everyone was too stoned in the 70s to even speak let alone hold forth on what another person should do. Perhaps this plethora of suggestion-pushers is an unintended product of talk shows and radio call-in programs. Now I've got some advice for you folks: shut up and wait until someone asks you for your opinion, OK? Don't despair, someone may actually ask you sometime.

Meanwhile, in my experience as a consultant, coach and teacher, I've noticed that most people don't cotton much to any type of advice, solicited or unsolicited. I've been paid hundreds of dollars an hour to dispense my knowledge and to apply my life experience and education to another's specific circumstances. Mind you, they've hired me and they still don't like to listen to or follow advice, even when they've paid for it.

What makes these mediocre meddlers, these know-nothing-nattering-nabobs of the obvious, these kings and queens of blah, blah, blah, think that anyone really wants or needs their cheap irksome advice? Do I have "Please give me your most recent lamebrained theory on what I should do" tattooed on my forehead?

My theory is that the compulsion to dispense gratis ideas is indeed that: a compulsion, not unlike other addictions. And just like other addictions there should be a 12-step program for it: Compulsive Opinion-Givers Anonymous.

Please don't "should" on other people. Short of creating a new 12-step program, and since I am a paid opinion writer, here are my admittedly unasked-for opinions for those folks who should on everyone else:

1. You should shut up and consider that you're focusing on what someone else should do because you're avoiding those things that you should do.

2. Smile when you feel that compulsion to tell someone else what to do, and ask yourself, Who asked me? Good question! Answer? No one!

3. Etiquette, common sense and responsible time management suggests that it is good form to ask, Would you like to hear my idea/opinion/advice? prior to barging willy-nilly, uninvited into unasked-for solutions. And if the person has the fortitude to say, No thanks, zip it.

4. If you're considerate enough to ask someone if they'd like to hear your opinion, you may actually be worth listening to!

Since most of us are just too darn nice to tell a seemingly well-meaning person to "bite me," you can clip this column and hand it to people and let me be the "bad guy." But also consider that a person who deigns to think they have better ideas than you do -- without you having asked them -- is putting themselves above you. Unsolicited advice can be seen as a passive-aggressive, condescending way of telling you that they think you're stupid or inferior. Off-duty therapists, lawyers, coaches, teachers and counselors, who really value your time and their time, won't try to "fix" you outside of regular office hours. So there!

Now, there are the advice "sponges" who walk around getting the opinion of everyone within range who never do anything with your advice anyway, but that's a whole other compulsion and column.

Hey, maybe I should go on Oprah to talk about this! Thanks. I already thought of it.