Why I’ve banned unsolicited advice

In social interactions over the years, there’s one issue that comes up over and over again. Each time, there is an outcry that I couldn’t possibly mean something so unbelievable, so unreasonable, and so disrespectful to those around me.

Have I endorsed kicking puppies?

Drowning kittens?

Shaking babies?

Nope.

There’s one simple rule for interacting with me.

Don’t give me unsolicited advice.

Can you accept unsolicited advice for yourself because you appreciate it? Sure! Can you give unsolicited advice to your friends and family who want it? Sure, as long as you know they really are okay with it. Whatever happens amongst consenting adults…

Can you give your kids unsolicited advice because you’re the parent? Yes, that’s part of being a parent. If they hate you for it, well, that’s also parenthood. 😀

But can you give me unsolicited advice?

No.

Of course, there are exceptions. Are you a professional or expert in the field I’m discussing, and have I sought your advice for other reasons? Do you have objective expert knowledge or qualifications in the specific issue in question? Do you and I have a long enough, close enough, and mutually respectful enough friendship that I’ll be sure to interpret your unsolicited advice as caring about me rather than forcing unwanted opinions?

Most of all, though: if I ask you to please back off with unsolicited advice, what is your response?

Will you say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that wasn’t okay. I’ll be more careful in the future.”

Or will you say, “You should be nicer to other people when they give you unsolicited advice. Don’t be defensive. I wasn’t really giving unsolicited advice. You should be nicer to me.”

If it’s the first, this probably doesn’t apply to you.

But if it’s the second, then yeah. If you want to interact with me (which, fair enough, you may not…but if so, why are you reading this post?), you’ll need to think hard about why you’re giving the unsolicited advice in the first place. What is your objective?

  • I know how you should fix your problem, and listening to me will help you find a solution.
  • I care about you, and I want you to validate this caring. It’s very important to me that you acknowledge that I care about you as I’m violating your often-stated boundary not to give unsolicited advice.
  • I know that you don’t want unsolicited advice, but my comments are an exception. It’s an opinion/question/statement/sign of concern, but that is not unsolicited advice. I will argue with you over the legalities of whether my comments were advice or not.
  • My intention is not to give unsolicited advice, and that matters more than whether it is received as unsolicited advice.
  • I’ve got a difficult life/situation, and that means I should be allowed to speak to you however I want.

 

What is the common link of all these objectives?

They focus on the speaker, not the listener.

Yes, it’s pop psychology, but Pyschology Today has some interesting thoughts on the reasons people give unsolicited advice (spoiler alert! it’s not to show care and concern) and the often unconscious strategies behind giving unsolicited advice. HuffPost gives these suggestions for those who enjoy giving unsolicited advice.

Here is the basic script for unsolicited advice I’ve received over the years:

  1. The speaker makes assumptions about my situation, and these assumptions are rarely correct.
    .
    Why this is problematic: Advice must be tailored to the specific situation, and each person’s experience is different. If you had a border collie puppy 15 years ago while in a certain situation, that does not mean my current situation, puppy, and personality are suitable for how you handled your puppy. At best, this is annoying. At worst, it drains my resources (explaining to you why your advice is not helpful) at a time when I’m already exhausted dealing with the situation.
    .
  2. The speaker will either phrase the advice in the form of a question (Why are you doing it that way?) or command (You should…).
    .
    Why this is problematic: Good advice always begins with good, careful listening. Why? So that you don’t make incorrect assumptions (see #1). If my child is struggling to read and you insist she must sit down for 30 minutes every day whether she wants to or not, you might not realize she has dyslexia and would do better with interactive or audio formats to encourage her interest…before tackling the hard work of written words. If you’re issuing commands or just asking questions to disguise your commands (Did you do x? Are you sure you didn’t do y?), you’ve stopped listening. How can you expect me to listen when you refuse to give me the same courtesy? Especially when you have been asked not to do exactly what you’re doing?
    .
  3. The speaker will get defensive, either for his/her own sake or for the one who gave unsolicited advice. (You should realize that people care about you. They’re being nice. You shouldn’t get so upset. I wasn’t intending to give advice.)
    .
    Why this is problematic: My personal boundaries matter more than your hurt feelings. Should all women smile to make men happier? Should all girls and women wear skirts that are long or short enough to suit the tastes of boys and men around them? Should all women have sex with so-called “incels” to make them happy? At what point does consent matter more than pride? At what point are we (as humans, but especially as women) allowed to say NO, you may NOT violate my boundaries?
    Bonus: This defensiveness is usually paired with doubling down on the original unsolicited advice. Not just telling me what to do once, but then telling me how to react to being told what to do!
    .
  4. The speaker will then claim victimhood, shut down the conversation, and/or end the friendship.
    .
    Why this is problematic: If the unsolicited advice truly was based on care and concern, how does ending the friendship prove that? In effect, the ultimatum becomes: Do as I tell you, or I will no longer stay in your life. If this is about me destroying my life with incessant, excessive substance abuse, then of course there are appropriate times and places for an intervention. But if I’m not crossing the street in the exact manner you find acceptable, and you end the friendship because I will not allow you to tell me that I must do so…what kind of friend are you? Not one at all.

Here’s the thing.

I am:

  • a lesbian
  • a woman
  • a person of color
  • disowned by my family and church for being all three above
  • an immigrant
  • someone who has been homeless and is at risk of becoming homeless again
  • someone who has experienced domestic abuse/violence
  • someone who does not have a current, stable source of income

For all of these reasons, outsiders (and friends) feel entitled–nay, impelled–to give advice. What does this advice center on?

As a non-lesbian, non-woman, non-person of color, non-immigrant, non-homeless, with relative financial stability and/or someone whose relationship may or may not be similar to yours…

I know better than you how you should live your life.

When white people tell people of color how to live as a person of color in a white-dominated world…

When straight people tell queer people how to be queer…

When men tell women how to be women…

When those who don’t wake up each morning terrified of not having a place to sleep that night…

The list goes on.

When your visible identity is perceived as not the norm, your life is available for critique.

Paradoxically, it’s the very perception of sameness that fuels this critique.

I critique your life and choices (even though my situation is nothing like yours), because I perceive that my life situation is directly parallel to yours.

So, it’s a double act.

First, my status as “not-the-norm” means people want to give me advice how to live my life to be happier, more comfortable, or more successful. In other words, how to more closely align with their idea of what success, comfort, and happiness look like. You should conform, and my advice will help you to do so.

This can be lesbians telling me to forget my family because they forgot their own family. It might be someone in a previous abusive relationship who tells me to get a divorce because they divorced their own spouse. It might be an immigrant telling me to be grateful I’m in the UK, because they are grateful for themselves.

In other words:

Be like me.

If you follow my advice, you will become more like me.

Do you see the inherent self-focus in such a belief?

If you make the same choices that I would, you will succeed.

There’s something most people forget, though.

Helpful advice is precious, useful…and highly sought after.

That’s why we pay a fortune to doctors, vets, lawyers, accountants, consultants, plumbers, and professionals. Good advice costs a fortune, or it is given with great care in the context of a mutual respectful and caring relationship. So if you look up to your dad, as I did, and ask him for advice on how to maintain my car, the advice is worth a fortune. His childhood and adolescence working in his dad’s garage made him an expert.

Free advice?

While there are always exceptions, you get what you pay for. Free advice on hair from a friend who is a hairstylist and has worked long and hard on her career? A precious gift that you receive free but is worth a lot. Free advice from a random stranger who doesn’t know the first thing about you and hasn’t spent time with you? Not so much.

.

Second, the false equivalency (I’m a heterosexual white woman living in the country where I was born and am a citizen, but we are all human beings so I am qualified to tell you how to deal with the specific immigration regulations of a country I’ve never visited or lived in) of failing to recognize differences in situations (between mine and yours) is a form of egocentrism. That is, the inability to distinguish between your values, life experiences, situation, resources, etc. and mine.

Do you love to drink beer, go kayaking, and ignore advice you dislike?

Great for you!

You are entitled to do so, and I’m pleased it’s your life choice.

However, your life situation is not mine.

Your life decisions are not mine.

I am not you.

You are not me.

If you are talking to me, your advice is not valid for anyone besides yourself.

But that’s soooo mean! People just want to give you advice because they care about you! Why can’t you just smile and say thank you to make them feel better? You shouldn’t hurt people’s feelings when they’re trying to be nice.

Or…

Maybe…

Just maybe…

The way to be nice is to respect a clearly stated boundary.

You don’t have to understand or agree, but you must respect it.

But I don’t care if people give me unsolicited advice. You shouldn’t let it bother you.

Ah. You do understand that’s giving more unsolicited advice, right?

You’re too fussy. You should stop trying to control what other people say. People can’t say anything around you.

No. It’s very simple. Don’t tell me what to do.

Any questions?

.

How do you feel about unsolicited advice? An informal poll earlier this year showed slightly more than half of respondents would accept unsolicited advice for themselves. A significant minority felt that unsolicited advice usually carried implicit criticism of their choices/actions/decisions.

What do you think?

 

 

 

Belated Thursday Thankfulness

One of the traditions I began ages ago was a weekly thankfulness post. Even if it became a bit repetitive over time, it helped to center me each week. The trick is to keep a thankfulness post from becoming a boast.

I’m thankful I earned this prize and got these accolades and my kids accomplished this and my spouse’s salary doubled and…

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of accomplishments and grateful for good fortune, but what happens when the accomplishments and good fortune run out?

What about when you’re unjustly forced out of your job due to workplace intimidation, unethical practices, sexual harassment, and your boss using both sexism and personal reasons to create an environment impossible for you to function?

Should you stop being thankful?

Thankful for the boss, no. But still thankful.

Why?

Because when we stop being thankful, we forget how to live.

Through it all, I’ve been thankful for my puppy. Thankful for the little booger who whines, misbehaves, and drives me crazy. Thankful for the ridiculous energy and endless kisses and licks.

But what about when the puppy grows up and dies? What if she’s run over by a car, or–as really happened–is nearly killed at a young age?

My challenge has been to find thankfulness in all situations.

Why?

Because, for me, there is no alternative except to give up on life.

Deepak Chopra said:

Be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you’re in trouble, because that reason can be taken from you.

I was happy because I found the love of my life.

I was happy for a brand-new, ready-made family.

I was happy because I had a new job and a new living situation that seemed everything I’d ever wanted.

I was happy because I had a new puppy who calmed me with her love, kisses, and trust.

When it was all taken away in an instant, I lost my ability to live.

I wandered through minutes, hours, weeks, and months simply going from one motion to the next. I didn’t care what happened to me, and I didn’t care if I died or lived. I only wanted the misery to stop, and my only hope was for my puppy to live.

Now that she is back in my arms, I’m starting to find reasons and ways to rebuild my life.

What will come next?

I don’t know, but I’m sure writing will be part of it. So will my puppy.

Other than that, I’m waiting.

Celebrating the tiny victories.

Working toward my puppy’s next exam.

And finding reasons, even trivial ones (especially trivial ones), to be thankful.

To be happy.

  • My bedding is clean
  • Ladybug has nuzzled her nose in between her teddy and my thigh
  • The daylight hours are getting longer
  • It’s warm enough to turn off the heat
  • A dear friend called yesterday

What are yours?

A lovely new book about bats!

My friend, Jess Schira, has a new book out! We connected a few years ago over her writing about pigs, and she’s been a constant resource for me when I have animal questions. She’s even helped when I’ve worried about my puppy.

If bats are your thing, Jess is your woman! Check out her new book. Say Ana sent you. 🙂

—–

60 Beautiful Bat Facts

A Handy Guide for Writers & the Bat Curious

Did you know that:

Bats could be the key to preventing a worldwide chocolate shortage?

That the U.S. military explored the possibility of using Mexican free-tailed bats during WWII?

In China, bats are a simple of luck, fertility, a long life, prosperity, virtue, and good luck?

That in Slavic folklore it was butterflies, not bats, that turned into vampires?

That the markings on a bat’s wings are as distinctive as fingerprints?

Bats account for 20% of the world’s mammal population?

That one little brown bat consumes more than 600 mosquitos in a single hour?

That in Germany, gamblers used to sew the heart of a bat onto their clothing for good luck?

That bats are more effective seed distributers than birds, making bats a key factor in the reforestation of the rain forests?

You’ll have a difficult time finding a mammal that’s more misunderstood than the bat.

Since the dawn of time, bats and humans have shared an uneasy relationship. Humans have claimed that bats consort with the devil, were proof of witchcraft, and that they morphed into vampires, they’ve been used in medicines and viewed as harbingers of disasters. The reality is that bats are cute, harmless creatures that serve an important ecological purpose. They’re clean, peaceful animals that simply want to be left alone to do their job. Now that researchers have started to take in interest in bats, we’re learning that in addition to helping keep the mosquito population low, they’re also an evolutionary wonder.

Without bats, the world would be a very different, far less pleasant place to live.

Whether you love bats, have always been curious about them, are a writer who wants to include a bat or bat related mythology in your plot, or simply wish to expand your Chiroptera knowledge, 60 Beautiful Bat Facts is for you. You’ll enjoy this laid back and easy-to-read exploration of all things bat-like, including Batman!

60 Beautiful Bat Facts is currently available via Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/60-Beautiful-Bat-Facts-Writers-ebook/dp/B076ZQZ99K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515393532&sr=8-1&keywords=beautiful+bat+facts

Gratitudes

I haven’t done Thursday Thankfulness in ages. Well, I haven’t done any post in ages. Such a shame, when it’s writing that makes me Ana.

So, while we are happily playing round robin add-a-sentence to write a collaborative story on Facebook (look me up if you want to join!), and while you’re all having fun pushing up my word count for the promised story…

I think it’s time to write my gratitudes. Even if it’s not Thursday. Even if life has thrown me a few lemons in the past year. Even if sometimes it all seems like too much.

Because when else do we need gratitude most, but when life is hardest? We choose to want what we have, or we choose to want what we don’t. I’d like to have many things right now that I don’t. Stability, predictability, and a whole host of other things.

What I’ve got, instead, is this wonderful little band of fiercely loyal readers who waited throughout a year of book drought but came running as soon as I put out the call.

How grateful I am.

How pleased, touched, amazed, and overcome.

You’re still here, my beloved readers and supporters and friends.

Today it’s time to take stock of everything in my life that I can appreciate.

For a bed with clean sheets and a pillow that’s clean and good condition, I give thanks.

For a room with a lock on the door and a cupboard to store my possessions, I give thanks.

For food to fill my belly and a place to store nourishment for tomorrow, I give thanks.

For a shower that runs clean and sort of warm water, I give thanks.

For access to a toilet, toilet paper, soap, and sanitary water for washing my hands, I give thanks,

For a clean and dry towel to use after the shower, plus clean clothes to put on and soap for the shower itself, I give thanks.

For a smartphone with access to the internet and ability to add data to my plan, I give thanks.

For a room that protects me from the night chill and wind, I give thanks.

For new books to keep my mind occupied, I give thanks.

For fluids to drink instead of getting parched , I give thanks.

For the ability to close my eyes, lie down, and sleep, I give thanks.

For the sweet reassurances of community who tell me I will weather this hard time, I give thanks.

For every one of you who still wants an Ana story, I give thanks.

I give thanks for you, dear friend who has touched my life.

I need your voice as much as I need my writing. For what good is a writer with no one to read her stories?

For you, I give thanks.

So many thanks.

And love.

Reader challenge!

So…..

Rumor has it that one or two Anastasia Vitsky readers may still be around.

Is it true?

Would you like another story?

Comment below (Facebook also counts, if you prefer) if you’d like ten words of a new Ana story. Wooden spoons are a must!

I’ll see how many people comment and then decide whether to do a fan favorite or start a new one.

Of course, you are free to vote for your favorite characters in your comment.

Comment can be anything! New year’s wish, update, whatever you want.

Hugs and love to all.

Ana

V for Valentine’s, V for Victory, V for Violence-No-More

Christmas and the holiday season of 2017 has been…well, interesting. That’s all I’ll say about it, but you may read more of it in the eventual publication of An American in England. Maybe. 😀

In the meantime, however, I’ve realized that this year’s Giving Tuesday (and the entire Ana’s Advent Calendar) went by without notice.

!!!

It’s been a huge part of my life and your lives as well, so it’s something I’d like to rectify.

I put out a call on Facebook two days ago (that’s the easiest place to find me these days), and I asked for help. Last year, we helped children in an ultra-poor elementary school by giving their teacher over $1000 in books and classroom/school supplies. In the past, we’ve donated literally thousands of dollars’ worth of books and Kindles to LGBT homeless shelters.

This time, I wanted to help adults. Specifically, women.

More specifically, women who haven’t had fair shake in life.

Within a day, all of you wonderful people had pledged $392.

Three hundred ninety-two dollars! 

I’ve tentatively teamed up with a domestic violence shelter for women (specific details are being kept private for now as safety is a huge issue).

Once I get a more firm idea of the amount we can give, I’ll contact the shelter and ask what their needs are.

Current suggestions include:

–Tumble dryer (make it easier to dry clothes and save space in small accommodations)

–Dishwasher (save on labor for busy, stressed women who may be pregnant and/or juggling kids)

–Amusements for the children (to help poor stressed moms whose kids may throw fits at being in an unfamiliar environment)

–Various necessities, such as tampons/pads, cleaning supplies, food, and other basics

One great idea, though, is a Valentine’s Day party/gift bag set!

After all, women enter these shelters because their relationships have gone bad. It can’t be easy to go through a holiday dedicated to relationships in that case.

If you’d like to join the VDay effort, here are a few ways how:

Head over to my Patreon site (www.patreon.com/anastasiavitsky) and sign up. ALL Patreon funds for this month will go to the shelter. (You can stop your subscription right away so it only takes one payment)

Email me at ana_stasia2007@yahoo.com. Please put Women’s Shelter Fundraiser for your subject line.

Contact me through Facebook (or comment below) if you’d like to join in. I’m afraid Twitter is a bit wonky at the moment. If you can’t contact me on Facebook but still want to contribute, please comment below. I’ll work something out with you.

I’ve been away from WordPress for so long that I see it now has a donate button. I don’t know a ton about it yet, but I’ll look into it. Let me know if that’s something you’d like.

Please help us make Valentine’s Day a day of victory for this domestic violence shelter! Let’s usher in 2018 by making the world a better place. Let’s believe in the good of people and make good things happen.

I need that faith, and maybe you do as well.

Much love from Ana

P.S. Watch this space for special exclusive offers for those who participate!

Giving back: in memory of Debbie Liles

(Warning: slightly political post)

As I’ve mentioned before, my father was a lifelong educator in the public schools.

When he died, one small comfort was knowing that memorial funds donated in his name would help causes he cared about.

Since then, education has taken a beating from our current administration. The arts, especially, have suffered.

I was the lucky recipient of a wonderful public school system that provided ample opportunities for music education, but times have changed. Title 1 schools, or schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families, especially struggle in the current climate of test-driven education.

Kids need to learn reading and arithmetic, yes. But they also need a reason to live. They need hope for a better tomorrow, safety to develop as a whole person, and encouragement to shine.

What music education gave to me, music teachers in public schools give to the next generation. Through endless budget cuts and inhumane demands and schedules, they give children a chance for a better future.

Last month, a music teacher was killed as part of a robbery.

There are no words to describe what her family and school family must be experiencing.

(Full disclosure: I’m not connected to her or her family. I’m just someone who was touched by her story.)

Debbie Liles’ son has set up a GoFundMe page for memorials, and they will be used to keep her music programs going. I know that many of you search for causes to contribute to, and ways to make this world a better place.

I hope, if you are looking for a place to donate, that you’ll consider keeping Debbie’s legacy alive.

As for me, I can’t afford to give much. But I am putting a small check in the mail and saying a prayer.

In my dad’s memory, I want to honor Debbie Liles’ life work.

Would you consider doing the same?

 

Author appearance! Free reading!

Come and listen to the first chapter of An American in England! Edited by Nigel Paice with a few extra surprises for Beaten Track Radio tonight at 7:30 PM BST (12:30 AM EDT).

The Web Site:http://www.beatentrackradio.com/
Via Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/beatentrackradio
Windows Media Player: http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv.pls
Via iTunes: http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv.m3u
Via mp3 player : http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv
iOS app : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id1178446224
Android app : https://play.google.com/store/apps/details

Author Appearance!

If you’re online tonight (this afternoon for those in the US), you can catch me with Nigel Paice at Beaten Track Radio. The show will include a few of my favorite pieces of music (popular, classical, and children’s), an author chat, and questions from listeners. You can tune in at any of the following locations:

The Web Site:http://www.beatentrackradio.com/
Via Facebook : http://www.beatentrackradio.com/
Windows Media Player: http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv.pls
Via iTunes: http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv.m3u
Via mp3 player : http://stream.radiojar.com/k98ef2r2hnwtv
iOS app : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id1178446224
Android app : https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

I’ll also read a few excerpts, including one from my work in progress, An American In England. Plus, by special request, I’ll choose one of my favorite wooden spoon scenes. Do you have a favorite? Tune in and put in a request!

Hope to catch you at Beaten Track Radio!