A local restaurant server who is a fan of my column writes, “I was serving a guest in a fast-food restaurant where I work. As I prepared his food, he smilingly said, ‘Take my advice…’ and proceeded to lecture me about changing my gloves to protect gluten-intolerant guests. It appeared to me that he actually believed that I somehow needed this advice, as if I couldn’t think for myself. I interpreted that as talking down to me. I was offended, but I’m not sure if I should have been.” He went on to say that this particular restaurant’s menu would not have been appropriate for anyone who was in truth gluten-intolerant for actual medical reasons.
The root of any good advice is logic, i.e., all good advice should have an “if/then” component. Let’s start with your example. This person lectured you about the supposed importance of wearing gloves for whatever purpose. I assume that he didn’t attempt to provide any motivation for you to listen to him such as, “If you wish to keep your job…” (assuming that wearing gloves for that purpose was a requirement). Or, “You might not know this, but…” in order to appeal to your possible desire to gain new knowledge. Or, “If you’d like to avoid unintentionally harming people, you might want to consider….”
Personally, even if I resented unwarranted advice from a stranger, I’d still be more likely to listen to that if/then scenario instead of a lecture totally out of context. One of the most important aspects of human psychology is motivation. We’re not preprogrammed by instinct as animals are. In order to act a certain way, we must first choose to act, and since most action requires thought, we must first choose to think. In order to think and act by choice, we must possess, establish and (as necessary) re-establish motivation.
Human existence is littered with attempts to sidestep rational motivation. Dictators and authoritarian types do it by getting others to act a certain way by force of law. Criminals do it by defrauding or otherwise coercing people into acting a particular way. But family members, bosses and loved ones make the same mistake too. We attempt to motivate with dogmatic “shoulds” without first establishing some sort of motivation, i.e., that if/then connection. For example, “If you want to complete your degree, then you have to keep studying.” This is a more effective than the command, “Study!”
This failure to provide motivation often begins with the parents. Then the child grows up and passes it along to others. I often think of the example from a friend who told me how his mother handled these situations. In elementary school, when he wanted to stay up late to watch a TV show, she wouldn’t say, “No!” Instead, she reasoned, “You can stay up if you really want to. But you WILL still get up on time to go to school.” Rather than an empty, authoritarian requirement, she told him of the choice/consequences (if/then) and allowed him to think it out. Unsolicited advice establishes no context. It simply presumes that, “You require advice, and I’m the one to provide it,” without any motivation.
So, dear local server, you’re entirely right to take offense at the unsolicited advice, no matter the source. Just keep in mind that the advice-giver’s motivation might not always be malevolent. Sometimes he or she is truly interested in the pursuit of truth, and hopes to impart the same to you. His or her failure to establish context could arise from poor communication skills and perhaps a lack of appreciation for our human requirement to act – or react – in response to rational and logical motivation.
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