Against Advice

Most of the time, listening is enough

Timothy Kreider
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readMar 11, 2020

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A 3D render of a human face with a finger on its chin, contemplative pose.
Photo: wacomka/Getty Images

II have received more advice over the last six months, both solicited and un-, than I’ve ever heard before in my life. I was facing a major life decision — I hesitate to tell you what the specific decision concerned, because if I do, you, too, will immediately form your own strong and worthless opinions about it. Suffice it to say it was one of those deeply personal decisions about which, paradoxically, everyone feels entitled to give you advice: people who’d consider it tacky to tell you your shoes don’t match your suit won’t hesitate to weigh in on the most primal and intimate questions. (My female friends who’ve had children tell me that when they became mothers — as soon as they were visibly pregnant — family, friends, and strangers alike all felt free to second-guess and correct their parenting.) Friends of friends I’d just met, people whose judgment I valued not at all, spontaneously offered their two cents’ worth; total strangers succumbed to the delusion that what they thought mattered. What pushed me over the patience threshold into something more like rage was when the advisor implied that, despite what I might think, I didn’t actually know what I wanted. This is like telling adolescents it’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it; no one at any age wants to hear that they don’t know who they are. On more than one occasion I had to give people formal notice that, if they valued my friendship, they should stop volunteering their unsolicited opinions about my private life.

“DON’T TALK TO ANYONE ELSE — THEY’RE ALL IDIOTS!”

— My father (I’m omitting the context, but I feel the sentiment stands on its own)

In The Pale King, David Foster Wallace writes: “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.” It’s somewhere between unhelpful and infuriating when people act as if the answer to your dilemma were self-evident — as several people in my own case did, even though they disagreed as to what that self-evident answer was. One person…

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Timothy Kreider
Human Parts

Tim Kreider is the author of two essay collections, and a frequent contributor to Medium and The New York Times. He lives in NYC and the Chesapeake Bay area.