I have to be honest here. I find myself agitated by unsolicited advice.
Let me clarify. I’m specifically speaking of indirect unsolicited advice. In all honesty I haven’t been receiving any direct advice from anyone as of late. I haven’t had anyone look me in the eye and offer a sound should to remedy a particular challenge or obstacle or grievance I’ve been experiencing. Not that I haven’t had any experiences that can’t be categorically filed under those tags. I tend to take the route of self-examination and introspection when dealing with such experiences in my life rather than voice my grievances. As I seldom open that window the flies of colloquial wisdom don’t find their way into my space.
An example of indirect unsolicited advice can be found in the posts of those live-a-better-life type of blogs. Those heartfelt sage words of counsel that explain how you can embrace your you-ness, what you can do to improve your life, how you can correct that struggle and win that unceasing arm wrestling with yourself or the world at large.
This might seem surprising to hear me voice frustration toward the self-help postings as I am the type of person that embraces a positive perspective on life. I wholly believe the path beyond struggle lies within welcoming our challenges and discovering new routes to self-love and self-acceptance. And by no means do I necessarily disagree with these profound writings from such compassionate individuals who want nothing more than to see struggle and suffering dissipate in those around them.
So if I can get onboard with the wisdom extolled in these writings, why are they agitating me? What is it about them that is working my penultimate nerve? As I read these articles and peel back layers using my toolbox of internal monologues, I try to peek around the corner of the post to see who’s hiding behind it. I want to see the credentials of the wizard behind the curtain. If someone is going to be telling me how to have a rich and rewarding life, I’d better see their deposit slip and their bonus check. I need validation. Is all this good counsel coming from an accredited source?
Yet as I pull back another layer of the wallpaper of my mind which is slowly peeling away in the heat of my psyche, I take a closer, more discerning look at the side-by-side comparison of these sorts of posts. One flies through my mental airspace without getting the attention of my ego’s air traffic controllers, while the other becomes grounded by my irritation. What is the distinguishing characteristic that segregates these otherwise similar self-help compositions?
I find it. I see it. It’s the seemingly innocuous use of a little three letter word, one letter shy of earning a pejorative label: The word You.
This word seems to raise my hackles. It’s this pointing at me, the inadvertent reader, that has me crossing my arms and demanding credentials. The writings that choose the We pronoun feel more inclusive, less like pointing fingers. It reminds me that the author has included themselves in the struggles that the reader may be experiencing, reminding us that we are all in this big soup together. The You users cast looming shadows from pedestals and high horses, pointing at us with a hand containing only an index finger, bereft of any superfluous digits that would otherwise point reflectively in triplicate.
Is the You author saying they’ve got it made? Are they now beyond the personal grips of struggles, did they get a note that excuses them from having to run their own inner obstacle course? How can I relate to the author if I don’t know if the author can relate to me?
So let’s peel back the last layer that protects that final nerve. The nerve ending of the neural conduit of self honesty. That’s one that always stings the most, and I always wonder if I should have left it covered up. Oh, it won’t get infected. It won’t abscess. Yet I know it heals better when exposed, when clean fresh air is allowed to reach it. The truth of the matter is right here in the namesake of this blog. These writings are my own self-reflection, the signing off of the road crew doing maintenance on the highways of my inner psyche. I am the minister of myself. I am my own congregation.
I don’t get the luxury of doling out advice like sobriety chips. I don’t have the credentials to tell others what paths of self-improvement to take. Discovering what’s good for myself is a long, slow, and challenging task. When I find the puzzle piece that fits, I discover I can only place it into my own jigsawed scenery. That piece will not fit in anyone else’s 10,000 piece landscape.
Perhaps it’s jealousy, restrained by my own pledge to not proselytize. I don’t get to preach or counsel or give advice, so why should anyone else? Why do they get to point a finger from a one-digit hand and keep their nerve endings nicely concealed?
They don’t get to, necessarily. They choose to. I suppose I would do well to respect their choice. More than anything, it would be of the greatest benefit to myself if I respect my own choice not to do so. Perhaps then the irritation will find some relief.