Giving advice is risky business. You lose friends. You get accused of being bossy, nosey, a know-it-all, controlling. It can invite reciprocation, and, if like many of us you are better at dishing out advice than taking it in, that’s no fun. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Fortunately, some rhetorical tricks can make our glass houses shatterproof, at least when we want to give advice to the gullible: ways to prescribe from deep cover, ways of giving advice by stealth, undetectable, at least to the unsuspecting. Here are a few, inspired by that sweepingly crypto-prescriptive and sanctimonious pop-psych best seller “A New Earth” (by Eckhart Tolle) and my conversations about it with friends who argue its case, and then when challenged, deny that it is making one.
I don’t mean to tell you what you should do, but… I can just preface my advice with a claim that I’m not giving any. This technique shouldn’t work. We all know that talk is cheap and that it’s easy to claim a motive other than the one that drives us. I could say, “I don’t mean to kick you,” and then give you a hearty boot. What would stay with you is not my declared intent but the bruise. airdrop crypto Still, as cheap as talk is, in a pinch I can deny any intent to advise, and some will take me at my word. That should shut them up.
Look, I’m merely stating facts… We’d love a reliable recipe for right and wrong behavior. Failing that we cling to unreliable ones, including those for distinguishing between right and wrong interventions in other people’s lives-between “telling people what to do” (which sounds bad) and “sharing” (which sounds nice and generous). A lot of these have to do with word choice and sentence structure. For example, one recipe would contend that sentences in command form (“stop smoking!”) are clearly telling people what to do, whereas declarative statements (“I don’t like smoke”) or statements of fact (“Smoking one cigarette shortens average life expectancy by seven minutes”) are supposedly just sharing. Of course that’s not true. A lot of what we say isn’t in the words but the context, the timing, the situation, the voice tone, and the eyebrows. If, in the context of your smoking a cigarette, I come over, raise my eyebrows, and in a cautionary tone relay some fact about cigarettes and cancer, that’s giving advice. With the gullible, I may get away with denying it by claiming that the sentence structure means it wasn’t advice. That should shut them up.