When did we become a society of such helpful people?
Oh, I don’t mean people who really help–like someone who digs my car out of the snow just to be nice. Or drivers who politely stop their cars at a crosswalk so that you can safely walk across the street. Maybe they even smile when they do it.
No, I am referring to strangers who give you neither their time nor labor–just unsolicited advice.
Several years ago on a warm summer afternoon, I was attending an outdoor art show with my friend Phyllis. We were having a perfectly lovely time when we passed a woman with a crying baby. She was doing her best to soothe the baby and I, who have no children of my own, gave her a sympathetic smile. She nodded her acknowledgement and returned to the baby.
However, Phyllis (also childless) decided to give her some parenting tips right there in the park. Babies shouldn’t be out in the sun, she said. Was that sun block strong enough? Was that very expensive stroller shielding him sufficiently from the rays? Had she considered placing a cold cloth on the back of the baby’s neck to cool down his body temperature?
The mother is sending Phyllis warning signs that I interpret to mean “Get away from me, you crazy woman.”
Phyllis doesn’t see them.
“Have you ever considered that the baby just might be tired?” I asked Phyllis. “Maybe he’s cutting a tooth. Besides, you’re upsetting his mother.”
“Why?” she asked. “I was just being helpful.”
And that is the problem with unsolicited advice: the giver seldom has a full understanding of the situation.
Yesterday I was in the grocery store, picking up a few things before the next snow storm. I paid for my groceries and was pushing the cart towards the exit. I didn’t want to take the cart outside with me because there was something wrong with the left front wheel and my wrist was sore from trying to keep the cart in a straight line for the past 20 minutes. (Are all carts like that or am I the unlucky person to seems to find them?)
All I want to do is get rid of this cart.
Instead of pushing the cart straight out the exit door, I wanted to turn to the right and leave the cart with the rest of the carts inside the store. Just as I’m about to return it, the doors open and a dozen people walk into the store. There are teenagers, two married couples, a few men looking for the potato chips, and a woman with two daughters.
She’s trying to direct her daughters into the store but she remains standing in my way. If she would just move, I could return the cart. I wait; she starts mouthing something to me and pointing towards the door.
“I beg your pardon?” I ask.
“The exit is straight ahead,” she tells me. “You just need to go straight out that door.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” I tell her. “I’m just waiting for you to move so that I can return the cart.”
“Well, then!” she says, clearly annoyed that I’m not the confused, addle-brained woman she assumed I was.
Now, after all this, I don’t want to fall into the trap of offering you advice where it is not wanted, But really, if you find yourself about to step into someone’s life with your helpful advice, first consider this:
- Has the person you are about to help actually said, “Please help me”?
- Have you been aware of this person’s existence on earth prior to this very minute?
- Do you know with absolute certainty what this person is attempting to do?
- Do you see flames, blood, or obviously broken limbs?
If you answered “No” to all these questions, then, for everyone’s sake, just move along.