9 Common Pieces Of Life Advice That Are Bad And Stupid
As you know, "self-help guru" is one of only three viable career options in 2018 America. Well, I'm not sure I can spot wisdom when I see it, but I sure as hell can spot when I don't, so in keeping with Cracked tradition, I'll explain why most of the profound advice you see on social media memes and bumper stickers is dangerous nonsense.
Note: David's newest book is out in paperback right now -- check out those customer reviews!
"Treat Other People How You Want To Be Treated!"
Yeah, I'm debunking the Golden Rule. I don't even give a shit. "Treat others how you want to be treated" works great if you happen to have the exact same values. But guess what? The guy who's always screaming at you the moment he doesn't get his way? He's doing it because that is in fact how he wants to be treated. That's how he thinks human interaction works.
This is also the mantra of every puritanical scold. "Well if I was dressed like a whore, I'd want someone to tell me!"
So how about we tweak this to:
Figure out how other people want to be treated, and go from there.
It can get complicated. You know that friend who you're constantly bailing out of a crisis? I'm going to tell you a secret: It's very possible that they like being in crisis.
But that brings us to ...
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 1
Shit, I'm already realizing that I'm probably not going to get a public speaking tour out of this. My reasoning here is that the world is so short on kindness that when we finally run into it, we tend to be way too forgiving. "Don't be so hard on her, she was trying to do the right thing!"
Be kind, after coldly deciding what counts for kindness in this situation.
I realize that's both too long and too cranky for a bumper sticker, but lots of the kind people I know are so kind that they won't, for example, tell you that your work is lazy trash even when they are sure it is. Their kindness only extends to protecting your feelings in the moment. That's the type of kindness that insists on giving the dog treats even when it shits on the kitchen counter, ensuring that it never stops doing it.
These people often are concerned less about your well-being and more about preserving your feelings toward them. Their kindness is selfish and runs about an inch deep.
"Listening Makes All The Difference!"
Here's an example of why this advice is bullshit:
The average person who says they're a vegetarian actually eats about one serving of meat a day. About 60 percent of self-described vegetarians will admit in surveys that they've eaten meat in the last 24 hours (a third of them say they usually do so when drunk). And an astounding 84 percent of vegans and vegetarians eventually go back to eating meat. Which is to say that everyone is lying, just ... all of the goddamned time.
Oh, sure, listening definitely matters. What most people want is for you to listen to them, even if you don't actually do anything to help. But if you want to understand others and thus navigate this scary world of ours, the rule should be:
Carefully watching what people do makes all the difference.
See, then you'll understand why they're lying. It's not always bad -- the people lying about their meat consumption figure it still helps to promote the cause, even if they themselves can't live up to it. Christians do the same. The asshole at work who rages at you when you offer criticism? Watch carefully -- more often than not, they'll quietly change their habits in response to what you said. The "How dare you question me!" bullshit is just insecure posturing, and that's never the part that matters.
Then, to take this from the other side ...
Related: Happy Birthday, Badass - August 3
"Speak From The Heart!"
I guess this just means "Be honest," and no, my counter isn't "Lying can fix almost any problem!" (Even though that happens to be true.) No, my better advice is,
Learn to read the goddamned room, people.
It doesn't matter what you say. At all. What matters is what the other person hears. People aren't robots, and all words are filtered through a thick layer of mood and context. If someone's convinced you're out to get them, then literally any criticism, no matter how logical and carefully explained, will be heard as "You suck, I rule, I am establishing my dominance over you." If the other person thinks you're incredibly attractive, the only information they'll retain from your exchange is "My crush noticed me!"
If you speak honestly, openly, and clearly and the other person reacts badly because you didn't take five seconds to first consider their state of mind, that's on you.
"Follow Your Passion!"
This career advice is pointing out something that's definitely true: If you aren't passionate about your work, it's hard to muster the energy to be really good at it. (Note: Being really good at something takes a fuckload of energy! Way more than you think!) But the reason most people who follow their passion never arrive at their passion is that this advice is incomplete to the point of being wrong.
A better version:
Follow your pain.
That is, figure out what costs you're willing to accept to do the thing you're thinking about doing. If you're passionate about writing poetry for a living, then you have to realize that it pays shit and ask yourself if you're willing to accept the pain of poverty in order to be a poet. If so, go for it! There are other forms of wealth in life! Otherwise, you'll be tying yourself in knots trying to always have it both ways. Passion, by nature, doesn't take into account how the economy works.
Learning this lesson was a hard road for me. Specifically, I had to read this article giving me this very advice, and then I thought, "I'm going to share that with people!" Jesus, that's not going to work on the speaking tour. I need to make up an inspirational backstory, don't I?
Related: 5 Streams That Went Horribly Wrong
"Stop And Smell The Roses!"
This is advice that's popular among middle-aged professionals who are afraid that in the course of pursuing their careers, they forgot to raise their children. I don't think this is the big problem right now for most of you. My alternative:
Practice delaying gratification.
All of the skills that will let you succeed, whether your goal is to be a hedge fund millionaire or to play the banjo on a street corner, all really boil down to one skill: the ability to decline short-term pleasure in exchange for greater long-term pleasure. It's the ability to work and see no immediate result or encouragement whatsoever, knowing that it will pay off down the line.
If it sounds like I'm suggesting scrapping work/life balance in order to get rich and die alone after a string of divorces, remember that it works the other way, too. Natural high achievers will take the short-term pleasure (getting ahead of the competition, clocking extra hours), and ignore the fact that succeeding long-term means looking after their physical and mental health. They get to feel like a world-conquering badass now while skipping the exercise, sleep, vacations, and personal relationships that will let them be a badass (or at least alive) ten years down the line. For them, taking a vacation is delaying gratification.
"Don't Let The Haters Get You Down!"
We live in a magical era when you can post a picture of your dog on Reddit, and within five comments have someone say that they hope your dog dies, that you die, and that racism is very good. It's true that trying to function in such an environment means being able to tune out shitheads, but what you don't realize is that the shitheads were themselves once like you.
When you encounter a shithead, you're usually encountering somebody who is bristling with defense mechanisms, and they built up those defenses to -- you guessed it -- fend off shitheads. That, ultimately, is the true danger of encountering shitheadery -- not the immediate distress of having people curse at you, but the long-term change in your own personality that occurs in response. You know, kind of like how the real damage of 9/11 came from the reaction and not the attacks themselves.
What you instead must do is:
Get a clear sense of what you should and shouldn't be ashamed of.
People will try to shame you over your weight, income, sex partners, hobbies ... anything they sense you're insecure about, whether it's actually in your control or not. But shame exists for a reason. It's how society gives you feedback on your habits. So staying sane means learning how to answer this fairly simple question: "Is the critic here actually interested in seeing me get better, or are they just tearing me down so they look bigger in comparison?"
Now, despite having become perfect at this, I still haven't encountered a single piece of legitimate criticism since 1996. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep an eye out.
"What Matters Is What's In Your Heart!"
This is a case in which people misinterpret the intentions of the original author of the phrase (a copywriter at Newark Refrigerator Magnet Solutions, LLC, who oddly enough later turned out to be the infamous serial killer known as the Jersey Cannibal). I'm sure it's supposed to mean that it doesn't matter how poor or ugly somebody is, what matters is their character.
Unfortunately, how people actually live this advice boils down to, "What matters isn't what I do, but how I feel about it."
Yes, these are the Thoughts and Prayers people. If they've wronged you, they'll feel guilty as hell. The guilt is, in fact, the fee they make themselves pay to do the shitty thing the next time. But their guilt won't lead them to actually try to make things right. "What do you mean you want me to pay back the money I stole? I told you I was sorry!"
These are the people who will make some kind of mental resolution to get a job, or lose weight, or be generally better, then will congratulate themselves on having made that mental resolution and consider their work done. "Those poor kids, left without a home. We'll definitely keep them in our thoughts."
This, as I think I've said several thousand times, is the epidemic of the social media age. "This viral tweet says immigrant children are being treated terribly, so I feel depressed today, which represents the totality of my response." Hmmm, it seems like if you are truly touched by this, you should do something more. "You're right. I'll be sure to also tell everyone I see how miserable I am, so that I get credit for being properly miserable in response to the plight of those poor children."
You are the sum total of your actions, and nothing else.
This is not, however, to be confused with ...
"Results Are All That Matter!"
Allow me to present the single most damaging yet almost universally believed piece of advice in the world. This is the bullshit spouted by every "loose cannon" cop on TV who violates all the rules but still gets the bad guy ("I don't like your methods, but damn it, you get things done!"), every talentless pseudo-celebrity who insists that their 15 seconds of fame is proof that they were right to drop out of college, every asshole who got rich off one lucky investment and then acts like they're a goddamned wise life guru. "I'm proof this method works!"
No, you're fucking not. There is a method to being successful -- no matter how you define success -- that is effective and boring and requires suffering through numerous brutal setbacks. It involves learning how to do a thing, and then practicing doing the thing until you've made yourself valuable to the world due to being good at the thing, whether the thing is being a surgeon, artist, lover, or friend. Or all of them.
You'll have stretches where you do everything right and still fail, just as you can have a perfect shooting form and still miss a shot in basketball, and you'll get frustrated because some novice will then take the ball and put it through the hoop by bouncing it off of his ass. The physical universe is full of randomness. There are marathon runners who drop dead at 25 from cancer, there are fat smokers who live to be 103. But it's no mystery which way is much more likely to work.
You have to always keep that big picture in mind, and,
Take pleasure in mastering the process, regardless of the results.
Shit, I'm just now realizing that these would all be easier to remember if they rhymed. Hold on, how about:
Mastered Process Is Faster Progress.
Crap, it took me two hours to come up with that. There's no way I have time to do the rest of these before deadline. Fuck.
David's latest novel is out in paperback right now -- look at the review scores! Jason "David Wong" Pargin is the Executive Editor at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook or YouTube or Instagram.
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