Wisdom-free advice

I am an ardent fan of Miss Manners’ columns. Negotiating one’s way through the perils of modern society and its ever changing mores can be quite the task! Somewhat akin to the English language itself, manners and social expectations are adapting to an ongoing influx of technology and redefinition of roles for those of us who agree to participate in society.


So, imagine my delight when Miss Manners recently wrote about the perils of accepting “wisdom-free advice.” Yes, friends, you read that correctly. How much wisdom-free advice has been passed along to you of late? Whether well intentioned or not, this particular strain of advice appears to be infecting all corners of our daily lives. The trick is not to take it!


But scores of folks are desperate for guidance, wisdom-filled or not. We cast about for input, as if our lives were some micro version of American Idol, and we’ll go with whatever the majority tells us—never mind that they’re basing their opinion on next to nothing known about the vagaries of our particular situation.


If someone can give me what looks like the Golden Answer, I’m there. Doing so frees me up from the burden and responsibility of figuring out the next best step myself. I know how seductive this approach to managing one’s life sounds; I mean, surely there are others out there who know a whole lot more about Life than I do, right? Good Lord, I hope so! At least that’s what we tell ourselves all too often.


But, as Gregory Peck said in Cape Fear (1962), “Thinking is not knowing.” Argh! I hate hearing that! In fact, I pride myself (most of the time) on being a good thinker—I think, therefore, I know. It certainly suits someone who dwells in our nation’s capital, n’est pas?


How many times have you thought something, known it deep down in your bones to be true, only to be proved wrong later on? We may be excellent thinkers in all sorts of arenas; we may have correctly evaluated hundreds of situations in a blink of an eye and earned confidence in our abilities to navigate our way through complex social situations, but the trick with basing future assessments on previous success is that the calculus changes. We forget this, especially as we get older.


Things don’t stay the same. People react differently. What we assumed to be the baseline understanding is no longer valid. The conclusions we have drawn are based on a bygone era. Apples to oranges.  Too often, we dole out wisdom-free advice to ourselves and to others, based on premises that were drawn from a very different set of circumstances.


My point is that we need to be continually questioning our assumptions when we draw conclusions or make silent declarations about the State of Things. It’s an inconvenient truth, but thinking isn’t knowing. And sometimes this can serve us well by giving us an extra chance we hadn’t counted on. Ponder carefully previous times when you thought you knew something and figure you’ll go with that this time, too, because that hard won knowledge may no longer apply.


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