A while back, I talked about six of the most quoted pieces of advice that are usually wrong. Unfortunately, that doesn't really even scratch the surface, because giving advice is like sex to many people. It's their chance to feel wise among what they perceive to be the unweathered masses -- dumping their mental herpes into the virgin minds of our youth. So here are five more social infections I wish penicillin could get rid of ...
This may be the trickiest piece of advice in history because it's also the core of every heroic story you've ever heard. Where would we be as a nation if Martin Luther King Jr. had gotten talked out of standing up for the oppressed? What if Def Leppard had told their drummer to go fuck himself after he lost that arm? If you have a cause you really believe in, you'd be doing the world a disservice by not stepping up and fighting to the death to protect it.
True heroes know this. And you want to be a hero, don't you? So if you have an issue that you're passionate about, you owe it to humanity to stand up against all opposition ... unless what you believe in happens to be the opposite of the beliefs of the people handing out that advice.
"Mom, I took your advice about fighting for my beliefs and got a new flag for our front yard."
A Better Alternative:
"Never stop fighting ... and never stop thinking about whether you're actually on the right side."
Ask Democrats if Mitt Romney should continue fighting for what he believes in, and the resulting laughter could power a city for a month. Ask Republicans the same thing about Obama, and their dumbfounded looks could only be described as "otherworldly." See, to the opposition, those people aren't "fighting for what they believe in." They are the personification of evil whose only goal is the total destruction of the morally sound.
"Sir, we need to talk about you showing your true form in public."
From the other side, they're not heroes -- they're zealots, because they refuse to compromise, and compromise is what allows humanity to function. And compromise starts from recognizing that the other guy has the same "True heroes never back down!" bullshit going through his head. Even the fucking Ku Klux Klan believe that what they're doing is morally correct. So do people who bomb abortion clinics, or protest at military funerals, or scream "God hates fags!" under picket signs that look like they were written in blood and feces. Adolf Fucking Hitler fought to the death for what he believed in, and it redefined our perception of evil.
Couldn't he have maybe taken up, like, speed skating or something?
So if you want to "never stop fighting" for something, how about going on a lifelong crusade to make absolutely sure you're not the Hitler in this situation?
In the fourth grade, I had a teacher who would explode for seemingly no reason on a regular basis. It surfaced later that she was going through a pretty brutal divorce, and it left her emotionally unbalanced to the point that she had no business teaching a classroom full of 9-year-old kids. Every time her temper spiked, I would get so pissed off that I could just scream ... but being a little kid, that frustration instead manifested in squealing "I hate her" through tears in the boys' restroom while pretending to poop so I didn't have to go back to class just yet.
When I told my mom, she insisted that I speak my mind. "Nobody is ever going to know that there's a problem if you don't let them know what's wrong. You need to toughen up, look her right in the eyes and let her know what you're thinking." When I finally manned up and took my mom's advice, my teacher realized that she had been taking out her frustrations inappropriately on us, and she apologized.
"And I just wanted to tell you that you're the hottest 9-year-old in the whole school."
Just kidding -- she yelled at me for back-talking her. So when I told her I thought she was being unfair, she went into full-on screaming mode, and I eventually found myself crying in the principal's office, hoping they'd take the side of the 9-year-old over a tenured teacher. They did not. And I also found out that fake pooping doesn't work in that particular room.
A Better Alternative:
"Speak your mind, but don't be surprised if they don't listen."
"And I just really feel like painting everything in the house white was a bad idea. Mom?"
Growing up means finding out the terrible truth that the world really doesn't give a shit what you think. That whole "speak your mind" shit gets shoved directly up your asshole the first time you find yourself in an argument with an adult. Since you're a kid, you haven't had enough practice to learn how to argue yet, so the only tactic you know is yelling your point louder and louder in the hope that the sound waves will somehow physically etch your stance directly onto their brain. When the adults realize that they're entering a pointless war, they cut you off by reminding you that they've lived longer and know more than you. So their point matters and yours does not. You're just a kid, after all. You don't know what the hell you're talking about.
And in that instant, you are taught -- even if indirectly -- to suppress what you think. What you're bottling up doesn't matter, because you don't meet the required age or level of education to vocalize those thoughts. Adults know better because they're adults. The only thing you can do is learn to stay away from the line that makes them throw their arms out and say, "You want a piece of this? It's go-time, homeboy!"
"Yeah, didn't expect me to go goth knife on your punk ass, did you, turd?"
Then you enter your 20s and hit that phase where it seems like you know absolutely everything. Maybe you'll go to college and you and your friends will realize that, holy shit, the whole world would work perfectly if only everyone would pay attention to what we're saying. Then a few years later you'll go through the exact same cycle you did after that first little-kid-vs.-adult argument ("What do you mean the president still isn't in jail? We SIGNED a PETITION!")
By all means, get your ideas out there. But you'll get very bitter, very quickly, if you cling to the expectation that the whole world will change course on your command (and in fact, it's possible that not even your friends/girlfriend/co-workers/dog will care).
I beat myself up about my past quite a bit. It's hard not to because ... well, I was a pretty big piece of shit. I refused to get a job, sleeping on friends' couches while they worked their asses off to pay the bills. Also, I sleep in the nude. My life was one big party, adulthood be damned. When I finally started growing up, I had a lot of people to apologize to, and one of the most common responses I got was "Well, I'm glad you're finally waking up. What happened happened -- you can't change any of that now. Forget about the past. It's time to move forward with your life."
In part, they were right. It's vital that when you're confronting past mistakes, you forgive yourself and move on. If you didn't, you'd drive yourself insane with guilt. But it's not a good idea to just forget about what made you feel so shitty in the first place, and what put you in your current position.
I'd really rather not talk about it.
A Better Alternative:
"Acknowledge your mistakes, but don't obsess over them."
I admit that this is a fine line -- the reason this advice exists is because people who obsess over their own failures are just as self-absorbed as douchebags who obsess over how awesome they are. Both are easy ways to wind up with your head too far up your own ass to notice other people. It's not about forgetting the past; it's about coming to terms with it.
Those mistakes and their consequences are, obviously, a central part of the lessons that make you a better person. A huge part of knowing how to get the correct answer in life is to remember how you initially arrived at the wrong one. It's all about maintaining the correct highway once you get to where you want to be on the map. "I really want to kick that child in the dick, but the last time I did that, I ended up in prison. I like not being in prison, so I should probably not do that anymore."
But, man, look at that smug little dildo. It's like he's daring me to do it.
Where it gets dangerous, though, is when "Let's put all that behind us!" is said by people who want to manipulate you in some way. Like an ex who wants to get back together. "Hey, let's just forget about the past and start over, whaddaya say? Just wipe the slate clean and start from scratch." It's so goddamned tempting, because it sounds like forgiveness. But in those cases, they more often than not want you to forget about the bullshit that they pulled. They don't want you remembering that there's a reason you split up in the first place. "Let's forget about the past. Because the past makes me look like a total asshole, and you won't let me touch your porn parts."