Friday, May 3, 2013


I know a man who has an autistic child; he delights in retelling the story of being approached by a well-meaning neighbor who, seeing the child’s state, suggested, “You should bring him to a doctor.” We live in a world full of advice.

I noticed this as I leafed through my morning paper.  The Style section alone has Hints from Heloise, a column decades old that deals with home and garden how-to and, I’ve noticed, is obsessed with white vinegar as a ubiquitous household cleaner and a cure for the common cold. Miss Manners, whom I used to know when I worked at the Washington Post, examines post-Emily Post matters of etiquette and generally manages to respond to queries with both elegance and eloquence. Two other columns are essentially modernized versions of Dear Abby and Ann Landers. The questions posed are perhaps more direct than the ones Esther Pauline and her twin sister Pauline Esther had to answer in their time, but the gist remains the same: heartbreak, sociopathic behavior from those near and dear, infidelity, infertility and inability to communicate.

Most editorials and op-eds are essentially advice columns as well. People with a certain professional expertise (former cabinet secretaries and members of the Senate are always popular) tell us--and, they hope, decision-makers--the way any given situation should be handled and how the solutions they propose are far better than those of the author of adjoining columns. Pretty often, the advice is of the “you should see a doctor” ilk, that is to say largely brainless and somewhat insulting to the recipient.

More broadly speaking, highly-paid consultants, motivational speakers, teachers, psychiatrists, physicians, and preachers and their ilk are really nothing more than givers of moderately useful advice.

I’ve been given a lot of advice in the past two cancerous years. Some has been good (give up artificial sweeteners), some bad (purchase a $10,000 water purification system for my home) and some plainly thoughtless (live a day at a time and without expectations.) The strangest recommendation came back when the future was actively uncertain and a man whom I believe may be an accountant suggested I die before April 15 so I wouldn’t have to file my taxes.

My father’s sole bit of advice when it came to sex was, “Be careful.” Between them, my parents suggested “don’t trust anyone” and advised me (in French) that “whatever the situation, they’re gonna screw you.” “They” was never defined but always understood.

My favorite bit of advice is more of a statement: “People! They’re the worst!” These four words, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld during a discussion with Elaine, are on some days the best I can do.

To be honest, though, I’ve been known to give some advice too.  Herewith, the best of:
  1. Don’t stand in the idiot spotlight. (If you understand this, it means you’ve been there.)
  2. Don’t be afraid of your problems. Be afraid of your solutions.
  3. Look at the past but don’t stare at it.
  4. It’s “ready, aim, fire.” Not “ready, fire, aim.”
  5. Don’t take anything away you can’t give back.
  6. It’s better to give a resentment than to get one.
  7. The only difference between fact and fiction is the footnotes.
Do you feel wiser now?









1 comment:

  1. I feel much wiser now. We have Seinfeld with dinner most nights. The new stuff can't compete.