Take the “No Advice” Challenge

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The more I review the research, the more convinced I am that giving advice in almost every context is ill-advised.

But I’m receiving a lot of advice these days.

I got a long e-mail from a reader telling me, “not go anywhere,” “stay inside” and “don’t even go to the grocery store or pharmacy,” with a hyperlink to a video by someone describing himself as a “health care worker,” who discussed an elaborate process for decontaminating food packaging.

What this person didn’t know is that I have been posting extensively on social media, trying to give a balanced view of the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. To ensure my information is accurate, I spend countless hours reviewing credible sources and distilling the findings before posting them.

My reader had no way of knowing my interest in this subject or the depth of my efforts to understand it. He also didn’t consider whether this advice was generally applicable. Should health care workers heed it? What about grocery store employees or single mothers in dire economic straits?

That’s one of the problems with giving advice – especially unsolicited advice.

Unintended consequences

Timothy Kreider, in a thoughtful article, recounted his unhappy experience receiving advice (solicited and unsolicited) when confronting a “deeply personal situation.” He quoted this observation, by David Foster Wallace, in The Pale King, “advice – even wise advice – actually does nothing for the advisee, changes nothing inside, and can actually cause confusion when the advisee is made to feel the wide gap between the comparative simplicity of the advice and the totally muddled complication of his own situation and path.”

I share Kreider’s dim view of most self-help books. He believes many authors of these books are “charlatans,” writing books that appeal to “confused dupes.”