I just read an article by Associated Content writer Dee Dee Smith titled When To Keep Your Opinion To Yourself.
It got me thinking about giving opinions and offering advice. The older I get the more conscious I become that people don’t much like hearing uncanvassed opinions and receiving unsolicited advice. Hordes of people offer their opinions and advice to others, entirely uninvited. Most of us have been guilty, I guess, of butting in on sensitive emotional and even purely practical matters that aren’t really any of our concern.
I have a neighbour who advises me endlessly on practical matters relating to my home and garden. He has an opinion on everything from replacing the lavender plants (that I like, thankyou!) to re-siting the spot where I keep logs for my wood-burning stove. He’s extremely well-intentioned but often I experience his opinions and advice as a bit wearying. It’s like fending off a bit of unnecessary pressure. The funny thing is there are a thousand things that need doing around his property but he takes time to advise me what I should be doing with mine!
Humans are problem-solving animals though. We wouldn’t all be here if we weren’t descended from a zillion generations who worked out how to solve problems. That well-developed practice and instinct means we often like to solve problems for others as well as ourselves. We fondly imagine others will benefit from our experience and take a short cut round the mistakes we made. I’ll bet at the dawn of history there were people advising their neighbours not to eat woolly mammoth steak if it smelt a bif off and not to go out in the rain without putting a wolfskin on.
Of course the response will sometimes be “Thanks! That’s a really useful piece of advice!” But more often it’ll probably be “Idiot. We keep our woolly mammoth steaks packed in ice” or “actually, we’re busy developing gaberdine raincoats.”
I try not to give opinions or advice to friends and family these days unless asked. Even then it can be difficult. Living in France, I have quite a few people coming to stay and quickly found out that even when they ask What to do? Where to go? advice can work out badly. One person’s idea of a great activity is another person’s idea of hell. Last summer I recommended that a friend take her kids kayaking on our gentle, shallow river, the Sorgue. The water is clear and cool, there are little fish and brilliant blue dragon flies. To me, it’s idyllic. I thought my friend and her girls would be enchanted.
They hated it. You would have thought I’d sent them off on a real-life version of Deliverance. What I hadn’t realised is that the girls like to spend their time on Facebook and their mobiles and that’s all. Contact with the natural world to them is like Chinese water torture. Drip drip drip – time dripping away when they could be online or texting.
I got my own personal look at receiving opinons and advice when my ex ran off with another guy’s wife some years ago. During the 19 years we were together I was never really on the recceiving end of other people’s advice and opinions. Couples sometimes underestimate how fortress-like they are. When a couple are really close, they present a sort of impenetrable face to the world. But once my relationship broke up and I was alone, I suddenly found out what it’s like to receive unwanted opinions and advice. It can be really unpleasant!
Firstly, you can’t stop people saying hurtful things. By the time they’ve said them, it’s too late. “He might have had several affairs!” one friend helpfully said.
Oh, that hadn’t really occurred to me. Yeh, that feels good to think about. Thanks.
And everyone weighed in about what I should do. I should dash out and find someone new. (No.) I should move house to get away from the memories. (I’d just had one huge upheaval; I didn’t want another one just then.) I should get ‘therapy’ (prfer to talk to my mum thankyou). I should take anti-depressants. (I wasn’t depressed. Sad, yes. Shocked certainly.)
And so I found out what it’s like to get unwanted advice and opinions. It feels like a pressure and it also feels very intrusive. Even when people are well-intentioned they can be incrediby insensitive.
So I try to remind myself not to offer an opinion unless someone asks. Nevertheless, that ‘problem-solving’ instinct is pretty strong, I believe, in most of us and I’m sure I fail an awful lot of the time.