Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How Do You Know If Bad Advice Is...Bad?

I've been thinking a lot about advice lately. Good advice, bad advice, sage advice. In books, the author often creates a mentor character. Someone who offers the protagonist words of wisdom which the heroine (or hero) initially ignores until pages of pages of characters growth. Then there’s a ‘come to realize’ moment where ‘ta da’, our heroine realizes she should have listened. When picturing a mentor, think of Obi Wan Kenobi or that old guy from the Rocky movies.

In real life, it’s not that easy. We’re all bringing our own experiences to the table. Our own prejudices and beliefs. A few weeks ago a friend asked for my advice on two different options. I offered her my own experience and created a new, third option. That has to be the best advice right? A recommendation based on our own experiences? Except in any scientific experiment, if you change too many of the variables, the outcome is no longer a valid test.

When someone tells you what they’d do in your shoes, or how they’d react, or how they had already succeeded in the same situation—the advice isn't fundamentally sound because there are too many competing variables.

And let’s face it, people ask for advice with all sorts of ulterior motives—often without even realizing they have an ulterior motive. Have you ever had a friend tell you of an important decision, and then later realized you were supposed to have talked them out of it? (I’m coloring my hair purple!)

I recently had someone tell me exactly what they were able to accomplish in my situation. Except it wasn't exactly the same situation. It was a different person in a different time and in a different place. I smiled and congratulated that person on their accomplishments. And, let's face it, we all define success differently. What may constitute success for one person, may be a failure for another. (I accomplished my goal, and neglected my family. Success or failure? Depends on the person, right?)

The best authors (the ones I try to emulate) use these sorts of experiences to give their characters depth and realism. Adding the extra dimensions of past experience to muddy the waters.  In Winnie Grigg’s book, A Baby Between Them, the heroine’s sisters give the heroine advice. And while it’s not necessarily bad advice, the sisters are basing their recommendations on their own experiences. Can you think of a book where a book where good/bad advice played a key role in the story? 


  1. I think I am keeping all advice to myself today. :-)

    great blog.

  2. I can't say if that's a good or bad idea Cheryl...because that would entering a gray space...

  3. Interesting topic, Sherri. We all see the world through our own moral compass.

  4. Of the top of my head I cant think of a book but know I have read some.

    I have to say I have been given advice about grieving that hasn't at all been helpful. A lot has been things like be gentle with yourself and I am what do you mean but thats all I get. (If they said take it easy or don't push yourself it would have been better). Also advice like you have to go through it. The more people were vague the more overwhelmed I became. It wasn't til the I saw my dr and she had some practical suggestions and explained more about grief that I finally was able to cope (She told me yesterday I was at a very low place when I saw her but she could see how much better I was now).

  5. That's what's interesting about human nature - it doesn't even have to be as dramatic as a moral decision. I had a friend who hated the smell of cinnamon potpourri. She was house hunting with her husband and couldn't agree on a house he loved. It turned out the homeowner had an affinity for cinnamon potpourri! Every time my friend walked in the door she immediately got a bad feeling. We all have these weird experiences that shape our opinions.

  6. Hi Sherri:

    I can’t think of the name of the book but it was unique because the hero was talking to his mother at the same time the heroine was talking to her sister. It was a kind of split screen dialogue.

    Well, the mother was giving all the reason why the hero should not marry the heroine. These were the same reasons the hero was giving himself. The mother supporter his views but he argued passionately for the heroine.

    The same thing happened with the heroine. Her sister was very against them marrying and used the same arguments the heroine was telling herself. The heroine also defended the hero.

    What the hero and heroine wanted was to get the chance to be the devil’s advocate. They wanted reasons to get married even if it was against their best judgment.

    Of course, against everyone’s better judgment, they got married and there was an HEA.

    Also, of course, an HEA is just the promise that an HEA is possible for the future.


    P.S. I like to give options. In my experience when people do A, X and Y are often the outcomes. When they do B, V and Y are often the result. Then I add, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. : )

  7. Sherri I have the same reaction your friend does with Lavender it makes me physically feel sick and gives me massive headaches. When I moved here the bushes were ripped out of the garden with the landlords approval.

    While I couldn't sleep I was given lots of advice about what to drink, eat and do. Some was helpful but most wasn't.

  8. Jenny, thank heaven for professionals! I think you've hit on the crux of the issue: every situation is unique because every person is unique!

    I'm glad to hear you're feeling better. I know one thing for certain: you mean the world to the Craftie community!

  9. Sherri, how sweet of you to say that to Jenny! I agree :)

  10. Thanks Sherri and Eva, I am doing much better I slept better last night takes awhile to get to sleep but got around 5 hours without waking first in 6 and a half weeks.

    I love coming here too and cant wait til next year when I meet a couple of the members in Atlanta. (if anyone is in Washington DC I have a free afternoon there also and there is a few meeting in Spokane Washington state).

  11. When giving and receiving advice one should always acknowledge that it is an advice not a mandament nor a rule.

    Meaning it is an opinion, not something you should take or grab as a mandament... and it has that weight.

    Most of the times when I'm asked for advice people just want a sound board. I'm good as that ahahah.


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