Musings for a responsible society

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Are you suffering from advice overdose?

More than all vitamins, proteins and other nutrients, we are forced to consume loads of advice every day in life. Every other thing may be costly, scarce or out of reach; but not advice. There are many advisors all around. You started hearing them since the day you formed in your mother’s womb. I am sure you woke up abruptly from your sleep in the cozy cradle hearing the high sounding advice.  It continues all through your life - the worst would be the teenage years: Every uncle who comes home, every neighbor who monitors from her gate your entry and exit, and every stranger you see on the road end up advising you for no reason. Then it takes a dip and after a while starts pouring in once you are in the employable and marriageable age. Once you are settled, you take the baton and start advising others. It goes on.

Look who is talking??

I also sometimes get into an unnecessary and unwarranted advisory mood. Every New Year eve I resolve not to advise anyone that year. But I tend to get into an advising mode within hours. Why do I think that it is my responsibility to advise every person who spends a few minutes with me? It is absolutely foolish to believe that the other person sincerely adores the wisdom flowing from the other end! Why do I feel that it is my responsibility (who delegated that to me first of all??) to give suggestions regarding someone else’s future? Utter nonsense!!

Unsolicited advices

The worst is the tendency to shower unsolicited advice on all and sundry. It could be a co-passenger or a person standing next to you in the queue to get a ticket or boarding pass. Or it could be the impatient one waiting along with you to get his hair cut on a Saturday morning. There are many categories of unsolicited advice givers.

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Advisor heroes

It is said that if someone is not good at doing something, he will be selected as a teacher to teach that subject. If he fails as a teacher, he will be given the role of a preacher. If he fails in that, they would make him an advisor. (I was given the designation ‘advisor’ in an organization, perhaps for my failure in the earlier roles!). We can tolerate occasional advisors but not the so called advisor heroes.  Who is an advisor hero? Advisor hero is the one who boastfully narrates how he has done differently in every occasion and got success. He would be categorical to project as one person who has never tasted failure because of his infinite wisdom and intelligence. The approach of this category of advisors is in contrast to those advisors who are honest enough to share their failures and suggest lessons from such experiences. Advisor heroes will create a sense of inferiority complex in the other persons rather than motivating them.

Advisor kings

The advisors under this category consider themselves generous kings. They give an impression that they are doing a great favour by giving unsolicited advice. They not only give advice but also go on telling others about the advice given to particular persons. They compromise on the trust and confidentiality to get cheap publicity and undue recognition.

Omniscient advisors

There is another unique breed of advisors who consider themselves expert in every subject under the sun. I had come across a young unmarried omniscient male advisor (not a medical practitioner) who can even give expert advice to married women on subjects such as menstrual problems, pregnancy care and breast feeding. Next moment he will be talking on how Reserve Bank Governor messed up the money market regulations. His shallowness doesn’t permit others to ask any questions to him. He would definitely run away to another place to shower his advice.

Advice and social media

From early morning to late night, one is bombarded with ‘words of wisdom’ forwarded by people. Many times, just into a few lines of that long text, we tend to worry why the sender himself never thought of following the advice in the first place. If someone posts an experience or a thought in social media, that does not necessarily mean that the person is trying to seek an advice. Sometimes we tend to give advice in the form of comments that may not be the intent of the post and the discussion might go into an altogether different direction.

Advising in front of others

Even a psychiatrist or a psychologist prefers giving advice in secret to the person who needs advice. But some passionate advisors will give advice in public to particular person. One could see in trains and in public places, the loud voice of advisors who generously wish that ‘let others also pick up a few drops of my valuable wisdom’. There are many amateur advisors who would like to advise the parents in the presence of children, wife in the presence of husband and vice versa, managers in the presence of their subordinates etc.

99% of advice are unproductive

Most of the psychologists and counsellors would become jobless if this truth is known to the entire world. Apart from those career, managerial or technical advice, most of the advice showered by the ‘advisors’ are aimed at changing the personality or behavioural pattern of another person. But it has been scientifically proved that substantial part of an individual's personality, character and behavioural traits are based on genetic factors and rest is through environmental factors. But the environmental factors have strong influences on a person only when she or he is a child of age 5 or less! That means, even parents, relatives, teachers, friends or social institutions cannot bring in any lasting change on a person at a later stage. They can only bring in incremental changes! (But in some cases, even a small change is a big relief for the community). Therefore, the energy and effort we take in actions aimed at drastically changing another person is unproductive because that can’t result in anything enduring. It is an irony that everyone is on a frantic mission to change the other person rather than trying to adjust to the predicaments they are in. Advice overdose will make the other person more defensive and make him escape from you. Ultimately the relationships get strained.

You will become a good listener when you put a halt to your advising temptation

This is indeed an information pushing world. Everyone receives huge gigabytes of information thrown on them from various online or offline sources and from different cross sections people. They want to instantly (many times without even reading) share them with other target groups. Even in private conversations, there would be a tendency to dominate the interaction by throwing the information and ideas to the other person rather than listening to her or him. There is a tendency to advice before even hearing the other person. When we control the temptation to advise the other person, we will become good listeners and will become more acceptable to others. People look for those who listen to them patiently rather than those who pour them with advice without understanding them.

Don’t give it FREE! Charge them if you can

If you are an expert (authenticated by community standards through degrees and recognition) and if you strongly feel that you have a better solution at hand (sometimes, degrees alone would not give you expertise), then share your knowledge with those who specifically ask for it and charge them adequately, unless there is a charitable cause or the person deserves a complimentary advice. Free advice is generally not acted upon as people may not value it. There are many free seekers of professional advice. They would go to many advisors at a time akin to a market survey. It is good; as long as they are ready to incur the costs. If we approach a professional advisor, we should be willing to adequately compensate him for the time devoted, even if he is a friend or a relative, unless that person refuses to take it.

The problem for the writers and bloggers

For a priest, a preacher or a teacher, unsolicited advice are part of their mission and they don’t have a choice. They are very much in the profession of advising. But even in such cases, too much of unsolicited advising would be counterproductive.

Writers of fiction can survive without giving any advice. Stories, paintings, poems and cartoons need not contain a ‘moral of the story’ or a ‘piece of wisdom’. But for writers of non-fiction and bloggers of social causes in particular, there is a necessity to take the writing to a logical conclusion. And conclusions invariably contain as few suggestions as well. Therefore my blogs also turn into an advisory mode at the end because analysis of a subject without conclusion and suggestion is not appropriate when dealing with non-fiction themes.

Let us stop the temptation of giving unsolicited advice.  But let us always be willing to share our thoughts if the other person is sincerely wishing that from us.  

© Sibichen K Mathew                                  Views are personal. Comments welcome


  1. It is true that there are great number of advisers, who volunteer to provide free advises to everyone, on any topic, at all time, whether solicited or otherwise. A slight indirect hint is sufficient for them to kick start their engine in high gear. The verbal train moves suddenly in high acceleration and runs amok, even without rails. It is said that 'empty vessels make more noise.'

    It is my true experience that such empty advices serve no purpose, except to cause irritation in the minds of the listener. Such advisers need to think of the fate of their listeners and keep their mouth shut. A learned man by his deeds (and not words) impresses and motivates everyone. There is no need of talking and advising, if your actions are transparent and visible. When one's thoughts, words and actions are in unison, that itself acts as a powerful tool of motivation. One's actions are the real advisers and not the unsolicited speech and oral bland advices.

    Everyone wants to runaway when such 'Advisor heros' arrive even by surprise. None wants to fall prey for such attacks. At the same time, when a person who practices what he believes appear, everyone throng around him seeking advice, which is useful as it emerges out of true experience.

    Instead of becoming passive listeners, we should also become active practitioners(not advisers). Baden-Powell said, 'The Scoutmaster teaches boys to play the game by doing so himself.' Let us play our life game silently. Our actions and deeds be the advisers for others to cherish and follow.
    अस्माकं कार्याणि अस्मान्सावधीकरिष्यंत |
    Only action will define us.

    - M.G.Kodandaram.

    1. Dear Kodandaram, you have wonderfully explained the message. I agree totally with you that our actions and deeds be the silent advice. People really like to escape from advisor heroes!

  2. Hi Sibi really enjoyed reading this.I think in India we are all infected by this disease.I myself had written on these lines some years ago.But today i have to confess that i too have fallen prey of this disease. I too open my mouth and pour out advice upon advice almost unstoppable at times on innocent victims who dare me with a question! 😜

    1. Yes Nima, I liked the way you characterised them as victims!


  4. But what else other than dishing out free advice can make the life an old man who has nothing else to do meaningful and fulfilling?
    Most of the advises are just what a fellow would have yearned to do but could not or had tried and failed.. Just as some think others should benefit from what they have already experienced, there are many who would wish the same traps for others, as they had already been caught.. The best means to achieve this is to offer advise..
    In Mahabharatam, there is a story about the dangers of listening to advises which are not meant for he listener..
    Abhimany, the great young warrior had it.. His illustrious uncle used to talk about archery, the techniques of offence, maintenance and defence, to his sister Subhadra.. while she was pregnant with the boy Abhimanyu.. One day Krishna was having his lecture session, and found that the sister was dozing instead of listening.. But simultaneously he heard some appreciative murmurs from somewhere, and found that the foetus was listening everything..
    The lord knew the child was doomed to a death at a young age in a battle..
    The Controller of Universe that Krishna is, did not want to educate the boy with too much knowledge to defend himself.. as this would work against fate.. So he stopped his lecture abruptly.. The result was that
    Abhimanyu became an expert in entering and fighting inside a chakravyooham ( a strategic military formation) but did not know how to get out of it when he was surrounded from all directions..
    This resulted in his death at a very young age..
    If a child had not spied on the lecture of his uncle, he would have perhaps lived longer..

    It would be very nice to give advice for a payment, especially if the advice is given and payment is received.

    But there would be hardly anyone to listen even if advice is given along with a hefty payment..

    Many, especially senior citizens, tend to be pontifical as age advances..
    And to my shock, I am trying to don such a mantle during retired life..
    This post is great..
    I could feel complete meeting of minds on the issue.. while agreeing that the message is pointed really to people like me..

    1. Interesting analysis. You have given me an entirely new perspective. I am really inspired to analyze the subject with reference to the great text.

  5. Hilarious sir! A evergreen topic. Long years back I too had touched it.. :)


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