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Want my advice?

August 25, 2011

For whatever reason I find myself giving a lot of advice. Actually, it’s probably because I’m an opinionated loudmouth.

The funny thing is, I pretty much always give the same advice, no matter if it’s about whether to quit a crappy job, whether to ask someone out that you have a crush on, or which city to move to. Namely, I say the following three things (in this order):

  1. Go for it! (this usually is all most people need, especially when talking about the crush type of advice)
  2. Do what you’d do if you weren’t at all insecure (great for people trying to quit a bad job or deciding between job offers)
  3. Do what a man would do (I usually reserve this advice for women)

I was reminded of that third piece of advice when I read this article about mothers in Germany and how they all seem to decide to quit their jobs and stay home with their kids, putatively because they don’t trust their babysitter. I say, get a better babysitter!

As an aside, let me say, I really don’t have patience for the maternal guilt thing. Probably it has something to do with the fact that my mom worked hard, and loved her job (computer scientist), and never felt guilty about it: for me that was the best role model a young nerd girl could have. When the PTA asked my mom to bake cookies, she flat out refused, and that’s what I do now. In fact I take it up a notch: when asked to bake cookies for a bake sale fund-raiser at my kids’ school (keeping in mind that this is one of those schools where the kids aren’t even allowed to eat cookies at lunch), I never forget to ask how many fathers they’ve made the cookies request to. I’m never asked a second time by the same person (however I always give them cash for the fund raising, it should be said).

It’s kind of amazing how well these three rules of thumb for advice work. I guess people usually know what they want but need some amount of help to get the nerve up to decide, to make the leap. And people consistently come back to me for advice, probably because the discussion ends up being just as much a pep talk as anything else. I’m like that guy in the corner of the ring at a fight, squirting water into the fighter’s mouth and rubbing his shoulders, saying, “You can do it, champ! Go out and get that guy!”

There may be something else going on, which is that, although I’m super opinionated, I’m also not very judgmental. In fact this guy, the “ex-moralist,” is my new hero. In this article he talks about people using their religious beliefs to guide their ethics, versus people using their moralistic beliefs (i.e. the belief in right and wrong), and how he was firmly in the second camp until one day when he lost faith in that system too – he becomes amoral. He goes on to say:

One interesting discovery has been that there are fewer practical differences between moralism and amoralism than might have been expected. It seems to me that what could broadly be called desire has been the moving force of humanity, no matter how we might have window-dressed it with moral talk. By desire I do not mean sexual craving, or even only selfish wanting. I use the term generally to refer to whatever motivates us, which ranges from selfishness to altruism and everything in between and at right angles. Mother Theresa was acting as much from desire as was the Marquis de Sade. But the sort of desire that now concerns me most is what we would want if we were absolutely convinced that there is no such thing as moral right and wrong. I think the most likely answer is: pretty much the same as what we want now.

He goes on to say that, when he argues with people, he can no longer rely on common beliefs and actually has to reason with people who disagree with him but are themselves internally consistent. He then adds:

My outlook has therefore become more practical: I desire to influence the world in such a way that my desires have a greater likelihood of being realized. This implies being an active citizen. But there is still plenty of room for the sorts of activities and engagements that characterize the life of a philosophical ethicist. For one thing, I retain my strong preference for honest dialectical dealings in a context of mutual respect. It’s just that I am no longer giving premises in moral arguments; rather, I am offering considerations to help us figure out what to do. I am not attempting to justify anything; I am trying to motivate informed and reflective choices.

I’m really excited by this concept. Am I getting fooled because he’s such a good writer? Or is it possible that he’s hit upon something that actually helps people disagree well? That we should stop assuming that the person we are talking to shares our beliefs? This is something like what I experience when I go to a foreign country- the expectation that I will meet people who agree with me is sufficiently reduced that I end up having many more interesting, puzzling and deep conversations than I do when I’m in my own country.

I’m thinking of starting to keep a list of things that encourage or discourage honest communication- this would go on the side of “encourage,” and Fox news would go on the side of “discourage.”

What about you, readers? Anything to add to my list on either side? Or any advice you need on quitting that job and finding a better one? Oh, and that guy you think is hot? Go for it.

Categories: rant
  1. August 25, 2011 at 8:05 am

    I have been advised at work to describe myself as “outspoken” instead of “obnoxious.” I think “loudmouthed” is a good adjective too, but I thought I would pass along the advice I was given if you ever find yourself in a room of more “civilized folk.” Keep up the posts!

  2. Deane
    August 25, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Another great post.

  3. August 25, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I’m having trouble with ‘do what a man would do’, but no time to think it through clearly. We may be feminists who disagree.

    Also, don’t go home to your kid out of guilt, but if you are moved to spend that time with your kid, go for it! Goes for women and men both.

    I’ll try to come back and say more about the first point.

  4. August 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Most people don’t seek advice, they seek confirmation. That’s in the end what you are handing out and the reason you get so much solicitation.

  5. Annie
    August 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “That we should stop assuming that the person we are talking to shares our beliefs?” I must say, I’m kind of puzzled that anyone would make that assumption. Obviously, it depends on the belief (I usually feel safe assuming that the person I’m talking to believes the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning) but, when it comes to religion, morals, ethics, things I know perfectly reasonable people can disagree on, I don’t assume someone shares my belief unless I’ve checked. Isn’t that conversational skills 101?

  6. August 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    >‘do what a man would do’

    If you’re talking with a woman who is caught up in what she’s supposed to do (based on gender), I can see how this might be helpful. But there are problems with what men are ‘supposed to do’ too.

    I am a single parent, and I know that the time I spend with my son is precious. I still am following my heart in my worklife, too, which can be overwhelming. I’ll keep muddling along, definitely trying to subvert silly gender paradigms and the destructive consumerist mindset of our culture, staying grounded through my connection to my kid.

    • August 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      Totally. I just meant, “what would a good guy who you’d actually respect and like do?”, not what are jerky men abstractly expected to do. I mean, I’m not trying to emulate a jerk, I’m trying to decide what is or is not a reasonable way to spend my time: a stupid expectation (like women have time to bake cookies in the middle of the school week) or an excellent reason (like my kids are awesome and I love going with them to the Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaurs!).

      • human mathematics
        September 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm

        Can you give an example of “What a man would do” and a woman you’d be giving advice #3 to? Like, what would she be considering as options that don’t include what a man would do?

    • September 3, 2011 at 3:38 pm

      I also think about “what a man would do” as even in this enlightened day and age, men’s ways of thinking are NOT about nurturing or family. Actually, ironically, the one’s who PROMOTE this type of thinking are — other WOMEN! Some prefer to be the “dumb blonde: aspect, maybe it gets them what they want, and others are along the same paradigm of thought of the Neanderthals, where men go out and hunt, while the women tend the fires.

      That all said, I’m now of the belief that it’d be wonderful if everyone was able to do whatever is their heart’s content, but in reality, we probably DO need some of the steadier states mixed in with the dreams, whether individually or as a community. I also wish that women would look at other women with the compassion they have toward men when kids are involved. Case in point, while flying a female flight attendant warns me to “watch your baby” as she moves the food tolley down the aisle. In another row, she’s cooing to the toddler a man is holding as he’s traveling alone with a baby! The flight attendants and support staff offer help to a man, but a woman dragging the stroller, the diaper bad, and two toddlers and a baby is left to fend for herself. I usually offer her a helping hand. I hope others do, too.

  7. JSE
    August 27, 2011 at 12:44 am

    “Do what you’d do if you weren’t at all insecure.”

    I give this advice too! I say it as “make the high self-esteem choice.”

  8. Claudia
    August 27, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I would recommend As We Speak by Peter Meyers…lots of interesting points about communications. I have been studying the chapter “difficult conversations” for an upcoming chit chat. He makes the point that you need to maintain a bond to your talking partner. Of course that is very different from needing to have the same belief system. It amazes me how many people cannot agree to disagree and how few accept the fact that they might be “wrong” a lot. I like it if people help me refine my thinking…especially when they do it in a loving way.

  9. August 27, 2011 at 6:33 am

    If anyone comes to you for advice about an overbearing colleague…give them this song to listen to “King of Anything”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA

  10. human mathematics
    September 3, 2011 at 2:05 am

    I do not like this ex-moralist. I guess it’s admirable that he turned himself around, but the stuff he realised is pretty obvious! Also I’m baffled on a “meta” level about all ethicists — how can reading and writing about ethics be considered an ethical use of one’s time? They should be helping the poor.

    • September 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      Do as I do AND as I say!

  11. September 3, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Is there a way to subscribe to your blog?

  12. 4runner
    March 8, 2012 at 7:06 am

    The following always seems to work for me:
    What would you tell your child– whom you naturally love more than anything in the world– to do in the same situation?

  1. September 1, 2011 at 7:24 am
  2. August 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm
  3. August 25, 2012 at 9:00 am
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