I know what my unemployed friend should do to find a job. I know how my niece should deal with her awkward boss. I know how my writing buddy should find a publisher. I know how my neighbor should trim his hedges. But I withhold my sure knowledge for one simple reason: they haven’t asked my opinion.
It is so easy to see how other people ought to live their lives, and so difficult to run our own. The temptation to loose our tongue when we know best is strong. But I am close-mouthed when it comes to advice. You don’t get it unless you ask.
Unfortunately, from my point of view, others don’t heed my caution. Unsolicited advice flies at me like pollen in spring. This stems, I imagine, from a general understanding that I am inept, an understanding that dates from my youth. How else does a boy earn the nicknames ‘Shorty’ and ‘Two-left-feet’? As a 5’-10” fellow who’s a good dancer, my nicknames are historical remnants rather than demeaning realities. As a self-made man who’s transcended his beginnings, I am anything but inept. But I am definitely quirky, and for many, that plays out the same. There must be something constitutionally wrong with a guy who washes dishes by hand rather than fill the dishwasher, prefers the music in his head to iTunes, and actually looks forward to eating the exact same breakfast every day. If I were ten years old in 2016 I’d probably be labeled ‘on the spectrum.’ Luckily I was born before everyone had to wear a diagnosis.
I have endured two peak periods of unsolicited advice in my life. The first was in the 1990’s, when I was a stay-at-home dad with a toddler. Fathers as parents were rare then, and mothers as advice givers ubiquitous. I dreaded going to the playground where I suffered constant commentary that my daughter was hungry, tired, or wet and the dire warnings that I didn’t keep a close enough eye on her. My parenting strategy is simple and consistent. “Give a child a long rope but don’t let them hang themselves.” Somehow, Abby managed to survive me as a father (without ever visiting the emergency room) and is a pretty adventurous gal today.
The second peak period is now. There’s nothing quite like an accident or a disease to load the wisdom of the world upon you. Caution is everywhere. “Take it slow.” “Don’t push.” “It’s too soon to take off your brace.” Everyone has an opinion about drugs. “Take pain meds before you feel the pain.” “Take Aleve instead of Tylenol.” “Take Tylenol instead of Aleve.” Advice need not be consistent. I marvel at how these people manage to climb inside my body and figure out how I feel. How else could they be so confident that my own perceptions are wrong?
All of this unsolicited advice peaked when I began to disclose a target date to return to my cycling trip: July 9 pending continued rehab progress. Weather, route, wanting to ride over a continuous period, and not wanting to ride through the winter holidays, favor putting it off until next spring if I am not ready by July.
This target date brings universal, often comical, grimaces of horror and knee-jerk advice to delay. Really folks? Am I such a reckless guy that I don’t deserve the motivation of working toward a target? Why anyone beyond my doctors and physical therapists has an opinion about my ability to ride my bicycle baffles me at best, is presumptive at worst.
But that’s just me being quirky, and the world continuing to believe I must be inept.