1. Do not give opinions or advice unless you are asked.
Seems pretty simple. Sounds fairly basic. However, in today’s social media, it can be argued that this Rule has been made completely obsolete. I mean, why are you even posting that photo on FaceBook if you don’t want ten people to tell you you’re pretty? When you expound about how much you looooove chocolate ice cream, are you not waiting for comments that, at the very least, agree with you, support your devotion, offer suggestions as to the best sources for same? Of course you are. This is the kind of opinion and advice that is desirable and expected on social media: by placing things before your online circle of friends and associates, You’re Asking For It, just by being there. Rule Number One doesn’t apply, because the opinions are positive and the advice is supportive. Yay, thumbs up, happy bouncing dog GIF.
But as we know, people do stray from these parameters, and that’s when the trouble starts. Occasionally, the opinions are fairly neutral, such as “I prefer vanilla.” Um, okay. But this was MY post about chocolate; your remark about vanilla implies a certain entitlement. Declaring preferences isn’t malicious but it IS annoying; think about the last time you shared a photo of a lovely shrimp dinner and some idiot just had to say how much they hate seafood. Or to return to the ice cream example, your “friend” had to tell you about their allergies to dairy. This sort of thing usually turns everyone’s attention to them, and you’ll see a screed of non-dairy dessert suggestions. So much for your delicious chocolate ice cream.
Obviously, social media comments that are actually negative fall directly under Rule Number One and it’s simple to avoid them. Don’t insult people on their own pages, unless you WANT to start a fight, and then there’s probably no better way to do it.
But what about advice?
Sometimes you’ll look at a friend’s posting and you immediately see a problem. They don’t get the joke in the meme they shared, they quoted a quote that wasn’t a real quote, they blundered into a “you’re-not-your.” You’re so tempted to... DON’T DO IT. They’ll be embarrassed, not particularly grateful, and tomorrow everyone will forget about it, anyway. There may be exceptions to this when an actual warning is needed — maybe you saw a photo where they installed something upside-down — you’ll know when they occur. Do it in a direct message. Please.
It’s easier to navigate these waters in real life, where opinions and advice still have a place. Our normal, daily activities and personal contacts don’t invite interactive commentary the way our online life does. But unless they are solicited, negative opinions are always unwanted. This extends from choice of a china pattern to choice of a spouse. Nobody wants to hear it; make your own likes and dislikes known through your own selections, and leave it at that.
When it comes to those who are close to us, for whom we have a certain amount of affection and protectiveness, it’s hard not to give unasked-for advice. We see them experiencing problems large and small, and we’re sometimes incapable of refraining from trying to guide them. But even the sincerest advice can sound like an unsought opinion. I’ve seen a lot of unfortunate rifts in friendships and families occur due to the manner in which such advice was offered, even when it was completely correct and totally well-meant.
Here’s the thing: if you feel strongly about a friend or loved one taking your advice, you should bring something to the table. Nobody asked you what you thought, but your Satanic permission slip is the offer of help. If you’re tired of seeing an older relative pushing a pair of taped-together spectacles up his nose, offer to drive him to the optometrist and help pay for his new glasses. Sometimes people don’t know how to recognize their problems, let alone search for solutions. If you genuinely want to help, then help with research, time, services, or funding and put that right up front. Otherwise, it’s just words, perhaps hurtful ones. Bossing someone around with your “advice” may just make them feel worse about their situation, and about YOU.
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