Free advice - It's worth what you pay

July 04, 2004

Everywhere you turn, someone has advice for you. Some expert has the latest update on how you should eat, dress, walk, exercise, socialize and live your life to the fullest. I was the youngest in a family of four girls, which should have earned me enough advice to last a lifetime. Now I find it was only the beginning.

The older I become, the more I resent other people trying to manipulate my life.

Thus, I was delighted to read one of my new favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, discuss this very subject in his book, "Tears of the Giraffe," in which his main character says, "It was all part of this terrible attack on people by those who had nothing better to do than to give advice on all sorts of subjects. These people, who wrote in newspapers and talked on the radio, were full of good ideas as to how to make people better. They poked their noses into other people's affairs, telling them to do this and do that. They looked at what you were eating and told you it was bad for you; then they looked at the way you raised your children and said that was bad, too. And to make matters worse, they often said that if you did not heed their warnings, you would die. In this way they made everybody so frightened of them that they felt they had to accept the advice."


One night of television can convince the more gullible of us creatures that we have done it all wrong ... and I'm not just talking about the commercials. There are a multitude of talk shows with all sizes and shapes of gurus who are anxious to share their superior way of life and wisdom with anyone who is listening. Even the sit-corns get in their subtle comments about people in the real world.

Here again, another quote from "Tears of the Giraffe:" "There were two main targets ... fat people, who were now getting quite used to a relentless campaign against them; and then there were men. Mma Ramotswe knew that men were far from perfect ... But that was no reason to treat them badly, as some of these people did. There were plenty of good men about ..."

But, of course, when I know something, do I heed my own advice and keep it to myself? Of course not! And even worse, I have been known to go beyond the boundaries of truth to prove my point. I remember a time when I was trying to tell my father-in-law that he should not feed chicken or fish bones to his dog. He informed me that he had always fed his dogs bones and it didn't hurt them at all.

However, when we discussed how most of his animals had died, something called "black tongue" was the culprit. Since I have never heard of black tongue and naturally had no information about this disease, I told him with great authority that black tongue was caused by splinters of bones perforating the dogs' intestines. Actually, he knew me too well and saw through my guise of misinformation. We ended this discussion as we had many others; neither of us moved from our original positions and were quite sure of the indisputable wisdom of out individual positions.

So, if you are hungry for someone to tell you how to live and what to do and not to do, just look around because the world is ready and willing to satisfy your longing for advice. And if you find yourself tempted to joint the advice-mongers, please stay on the other side of town.

Katherine Orton is a free-lance writer living in Danville.|5/6/04|***

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