October 6, 2013

The Problem When We Give Unsolicited Advice.

Sometimes, the only way to learn a lesson is to make mistakes and face the consequences.

I vowed that the last time I mentioned her would be the last time I mentioned Miley Cyrus. I thought the media would have moved on by now.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The latest chapter in the whole is-she-victim-or-a-media-savvy-mastermind saga involves an open letter that singer Sinead O’Connor wrote in which she urged Cyrus to put her clothes on and warned her that she was being used by record company executives who didn’t give a toss about her or her future.

Cyrus in turn retweeted a bunch of posts that O’Connor wrote a few years ago right before the latter sought treatment for mental illness. This lead to yet another open letter by O’Connor threatening to take legal action against Cyrus and somewhere in the mix, singer Amanda Palmer chimed in with her own open letter to O’Connor taking her to task for what she saw as O’Connor “slut-shaming” Cyrus.


While I have no desire to throw my hat into the ring and write an open letter to any of the parties, (besides, why on earth would any of them listen to me in the first place, given that I am not famous?) this whole media saga has made me reflect on the problems that arise whenever any of us gives unasked for advice.

Specifically, I think back to when I was in my 20s and like many 20-somethings, I was doing all sort of things that were foolish and downright dumb.

Well-meaning friends and family gave me good advice about relationships, career, etc., but it went in one ear and out the other. While my passive-aggressive personality meant that I politely nodded and muttered, “Thanks” and never told them outright to shut up, I was nonetheless seething inside.

How dare they? Who the hell were they to judge me or my life choices?

That latter feeling is exactly one of the reasons why unasked for advice seldom helps the intended party: all of us are imperfect beings.

All of us have made mistakes and most of us by the time we approach middle-adulthood few can say we haven’t made one colossal mistake we really would like to go back and correct.

While not wanting to see someone else go through what we did may be the guiding force in us giving this unwanted advice in the first place, many times the intended party can use it against us. All too often, the conversation then turns to us defending or justifying our past behavior and the original intention of us speaking up in the first place gets entirely lost.

Sometimes, the only way to learn a lesson is to make mistakes and face the consequences.

As it turns out, I eventually learned from most of my mistakes. I did look back and say, “I should have followed the advice I was given.” However, as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

The fact is, I did not want to believe the truth. It didn’t matter if God/Buddha/Mohammed had come back to earth and given it to me. Denial is powerful, and we often create realities which has little or nothing to do with the actual truth.

In any case, I really wish the practice of open letters to specific people in general would stop, but especially in the case of public figures who write them to other public figures. All—or nearly all of them—have the means to actually get in touch with the intended party.

If they really are motivated by care and concern, then let them know without letting the whole world on it as well.

Also, whether one gives unsolicited advice face-to-face, via an email or a phone call, they need to be very prepared that the intended party may not take it and/or feel downright hostile. Very rarely will someone say (at least at the time the advice is given), “You are right! Thank you!”

Lastly, sometimes the best thing we can do is love: let a person make mistakes, and let them know that we will be there when/if they need us.

Needless to say, doing this can be easier said than done. As humans, we always want to do something. However, sometimes the best and most necessary thing to do is nothing except love.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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