Universal Bad Advice

I am bothered by universal advice.  Messages vitally important to one population are broadcast for all as “good advice”. Yet I find most of it to be a mixture of the inapplicable,  inexplicable, and indefensible

“If you want a promotion,  ask for one!”

“Stop wasting $5 a day on coffee!”

“Don’t take no for an answer!”

Advice fit for one type of person,  or for people in one type of situation,  is trumpeted as universal general life wisdom.  This leads to people believing lack of life success is a result of not following the advice.

Asking for promotion works well for men, so too many people think the promotion gap between genders is simply due to women’s lack of confidence or effort. People giving this advice usually haven’t bothered looking at the research that shows women who ask for promotions rarely get them, but are often reviewed poorly for doing so.

Sometimes the advice just doesn’t apply. I would “stop” wasting money on coffee if I’d ever started such a daily expense, but $5 a day is more than my food budget for two people.  The advice is only useful for people already  spending beyond their means.

The worst example of generally given advice that should have been kept narrow was from my time in Al-Anon.  Al-Anon is the twelve step program for family members and friends of alcoholics. I joined as someone in a brand new yet already clearly dysfunctional marriage to a drunk who abused me.

No one told me that I deserved to be treated well, that love isn’t an excuse to abuse, or that I could make it on my own – what I would have heard in a domestic violence support group. They told me that I was just as spiritually sick, that I needed to work the program and maybe he would come around, that I had to wait six months to make any major life decisions.

I was told I had the same personality as my ex, and that we were equally at fault. Advice developed by a narcissistic alcoholic (Bill W) for people exactly like him was used against a young woman who had no sense of self at all. I needed to be lifted up. Twelve steps said I had to be torn down. 

I think it’s important to remember that advice usually isn’t universal,  that what works in one setting may not work in another, and that humans are very different.  I try to keep my advice specific,  and when possible,  tailored to the individual. 

2 thoughts on “Universal Bad Advice

  1. A lot of people tend to bow to cliché advice and proverbs i.e “You know the old saying, ‘A stitch in time saves nine'” or whatever. I feel sometimes like the more cliché the advice or saying, the more people expect to end arguments with it. The cliché might come from the Bible or from Greek fables or wherever. I like using clichés in poetry or pulling them apart for poetry. I think that’s kinda what they’re best for. For use in everyday life, they’re a bit limited, but like I said, people still tend to get impressed by old cliché advice.


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