The 6 Most Quoted Pieces of Advice (That Are Usually Wrong)
From birth, we've been inundated with one-sentence messages that are meant to be quick fixes for virtually any problem. You find them everywhere: songs, sitcoms, movies, novels. Pour enough beer into the biggest badass in the bar, and you'll find him hugging random strangers and spouting off generic "Be true to yourself" type advice and thinking he's a modern day Gandhi.
That's not saying that the advice he's giving is necessarily wrong -- we've just been hammered with it for so long that we sort of just accept it as absolute gospel. But just like any advice or random pill you find on the floorboard of your car, it needs to be examined before it's swallowed. Take, for example ...
"Follow Your Heart"
If there's one thing that Hollywood loves doing, it's trying to convince us that it's wise to ignore our responsibilities in favor of a reward that has virtually no chance of happening. In Field of Dreams, Ray (Kevin Costner) is in very real danger of losing his house, his land and his job because he can't pay the mortgage. Instead of doing the sane thing and getting a backup job, he instead plows up his crops, ensuring even less money from the harvest, and spends money he doesn't have on a baseball diamond, complete with a lighting system and bleachers that probably could have paid off a pretty big fucking chunk of his debt.
Or how about Richard Gere, who decides at the end of Pretty Woman that he should follow his heart and commit to a prostitute he knew for seven days? Hell, even Luke Skywalker turns off his targeting system and banks an entire planet's existence on space magic.
"Luke, you turned off your targeting system. Are you fucking stupid? Do you hate those people on that planet?"
A Better Alternative:
"Your heart gets a vote, but your brain gets veto power."
What they're telling you when they say "Follow your heart" is to set aside logic, ignore any potential consequences and trust that your emotionally fueled guess will be the right one. The problem with that is nobody really knows what they're talking about when they say "heart." Is it emotions? Gut instinct? A supernatural fate detector? In reality, the urges and cravings that spring up from your primal self are all based on such mundane, almost random factors. How much sleep you had the night before. Whether or not you have a headache. Depression. Your mood. Comet trails of old lessons floating around in your subconscious that you picked up from shows and songs when you were a kid.
"Right now, my heart is telling me to fuck all six of you."
In the movies, it always pays off. In real life, that's about the worst way to make any sort of rational decision, because without the balance of emotion and cold, robotic logic, you'd be homeless and insane by the end of the week.
Your "heart" is telling you to walk out on your crappy job. Your brain is the one saying, "No, we have bills to pay and food to buy. Get another job secured first and then give a two-week notice so we don't end up sucking dick for cheeseburgers." Your heart tells you to confess your love to a married woman. Your brain is the one that stops you and explains, "Are you fucking crazy? She has a husband and kids. If she doesn't love you back, you've ruined your friendship forever. If she does accept you, you just wrecked an entire family."
"No, I swear it wasn't me! It was my heart!"
There's nothing wrong with pursuing a dream or going after the person you love. But following the movie message of doing it at the expense of everything else in your life is just plain stupid.
Which leads me to another fucked up, overly romantic Hollywood rule ...
"You Have to Tell Her How You Feel"
I think at some point pretty much everyone has had an unattainable crush, and calling it "torture" doesn't really do the situation justice. Maybe it's a person who sits across the room at work or school and doesn't know you exist -- Jake from Sixteen Candles. Or maybe it's your best friend, and you just can't bring yourself to say anything -- Pam from the early seasons of The Office.
Hollywood considers this a mortal sin, so they usually inject a best friend into the story who constantly nags the main characters to confess their love. In Steve Martin's Roxanne, the best friend not only nags him about it, but when he decides he's not going to come clean, she does it for him behind his back. One way or another, you are fucking well going to tell that person how you feel, whether you like it or not. And in the end, you shall be awarded exclusive access to their squishy parts.
"I've finally found the only person in the world who doesn't throw punches at me when I smile like this."
A Better Alternative:
"Find out how she feels."
In real life, it's not so cut and dried. Yes, if you feel comfortable enough to come clean with that information, you'd be stupid not to. But just like all the other entries in this list, it has to be weighed out and not just accepted as standard human protocol. The cold, hard truth is that some relationships just aren't set up to be romantic ... and although it's ridiculously tough to admit, most people know when they're in a friendship with no room for promotion. That they're in a boner-free zone.
"Sorry, but you dress really weird. I just can't have that."
We've kind of been trained to think that since we consider the other person to be our soul mate, as soon as they know our feelings, they immediately fall in line. When it's a male lead who's secretly in love with the woman, as soon as she finds out, she embraces him as if she had no idea what she wanted until he told her. When it's a female lead, she has to transform herself with a complete makeover like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
Unfortunately, we're never really shown the much more likely side of that, where the secret "soul mate" simply doesn't feel the same way. That after being told, they sort of just stammer in embarrassment, "Oh, hey. Um ... thanks, buddy. That's ... really flattering."
Yes, it sucks. No, confessing your love isn't going to make the relationship stronger. In those cases, it's most likely going to make it awkward, and no matter how many Ross and Rachel fairy tale endings we see, real-life rejection changes everything. The key to knowing whether or not this is the right advice for you is all based on whether or not you feel like you can remain friends, even if there's no chance you'll ever be together as a couple.
"I ... uh ... have to take a huge shit!"
It's a double-edged bitch of a sword that no one-sentence piece of advice can fix. Oh, and speaking of rejection, Hollywood has a solution for that, too ...
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"Don't Take 'No' for an Answer"
In Ghost, we're told that Patrick Swayze's character got Demi Moore to date him by following her around and singing a grating song until she gave in out of sheer annoyance. Scrubs had a slightly different take, but the core message was still the same. Turk proposed to his girlfriend, Carla, and she said she'd think about it. He hounded her for an answer over the course of two full episodes before we finally got a "yes."
The 27th time's a charm, baby!
A Better Alternative:
"Make sure their 'no' is final."
Here's where it really helps to think of other people as human beings, rather than as malfunctioning machines you're trying to get working the way you want. And in reality, most human beings do not like it when you try to impose your will on them. They have a knee-jerk reaction to it. That's why people have a way of rooting themselves deeper into a decision or belief when someone tries too hard to convince them to take an opposite stance.
"Did you see Game of Thrones last night? That's a good show."
"I wouldn't say it's 'good.' I don't really care for it."
"Really? It's one of the best shows on TV."
"I tried watching it once, and I just couldn't do it. It may be the worst thing I've ever seen."
"Say something about it one more time and see if I don't punch you in the fucking throat."
It's exactly that easy to go from "I don't really care for it" to proclaiming it's the single worst thing to ever appear on television. The next time you get into an opinion-based discussion with your friends, keep an eye out for it. Almost everyone does it. And if you keep bugging your potential "other" the way they did in those two initial examples above, they're going to eventually react the same way.
Even outside of the relationship setting, we've morphed this message into a sort of admirable "go-getter" attitude. Business owners want their salespeople to operate that way. They tell you to do the same thing when you're looking for a job. Apply, then call. Then call some more. Every time they tell you nothing is available, wait a few days and call again. If you're persistent enough, you'll get that job.
But in practice, persistence is an incredibly tricky balancing act. There's a fine line between keeping your resume fresh in the mind of a potential employer and just being a complete pain in the ass who keeps disrupting their workday. I'm telling you from personal experience that when someone steps over that line, they're going to move your application from the "considering" pile to the "annoying piece of shit, fuck that guy" pile.
"GIVE ME A JOB OR I'LL CUT YOUR GODDAMN HEAD OFF!"
I've seen it happen at many, many jobs -- you have to remember that these people who control the fate of your employment are still just people. If you take your persistence too far, they start thinking, "If he's this annoying during the impression stage, how bad is he going to be when he settles in and gets comfortable?" Then they picture you making that Jim Carrey sound from Dumb and Dumber while shitting on other people's desks.
It's why some businesses tell you right on the application "Don't call us. We'll call you if we're interested." Of course, in the movies they don't let companies get away with that. If they blow you off, you stand up and fight, because you ...
"Don't Take Shit From Anyone"
Hollywood plots, especially those aimed at people under 30, are built on heroes defying authority. You have the plucky Ferris Bueller types who make their teachers or principal look like a fool. In Fight Club, Edward Norton finally has enough of his boss's shit and gets him back by beating himself up in the big guy's office. He makes it look like the boss was the one who did it, and even goes as far as threatening to go on a fucking shooting spree. He then uses that scenario to extort money from the company, frightening the boss into sending him checks -- in return, he'd never show up to work again. He not only gets away with it by not going to prison, but he profits from it.
Nope, no way to prove he did this to himself at all. None whatsoever.
In movies, the defiant characters are always, always rewarded for their defiance. That's right, kids! If an authority figure is a dick, he or she automatically loses all right to ever tell you what to do, ever!
A Better Alternative:
"Pick your battles."
This is such an easy message to get the public to accept because everyone loves a good payback story. Everyone wants to punch their asshole boss in the dick with no repercussions. Every kid wants to make the bully cry in front of the whole school. The problem, of course, is that pulling either of those things off is exceptionally rare. Especially doing it in a way that won't land you in jail or get you suspended from school or fired from work or on the ass end of a lawsuit or laid out in the emergency room with a cat lodged in your colon.
The person exacting revenge in these films never sees consequences. Ferris Bueller's sister covers his ass. The kids from The Breakfast Club destroy the library and don't do their mandatory reports. With dozens of police around, Holly punches a reporter in the face at the end of Die Hard and walks away, no problem.
"Just let her go, man. She didn't get to kill anyone -- she deserves to at least punch someone in the face."
Unfortunately, life is filled with moments where you just have to grit your teeth and take it, because the consequences of fighting back are much worse than the damage to your pride. Yep, it absolutely sucks to be at the mercy of some dickhead cop with a superiority complex, writing you a ticket for something that could have easily been brushed off with a warning. But believe me, it's a whole lot better to just pay it or contest it in court than pissing off the guy who's carrying a gun, Taser, billy club, handcuffs, pepper spray, 200-page ticket book and the weight of a hundred other assholes he's dealt with in the past week. The satisfaction you'd feel from telling him to stick his tongue in your ass is temporary, but the marks on your record (and the boot print on your forehead) stay there for years.
That's what Hollywood will never accept, but its audience has to. Although it's completely awesome to see the corporate bad guy from RoboCop getting shot out of the top window of a skyscraper, in real life that guy wins more often than not. He's the one who controls who has a job in the company. The one who's on a binding contract. The one with the money for the best lawyers. And even in the worst case scenario where he gets fired for being a douche -- which quite frankly isn't going to happen -- he can simply walk into the next company and have a high paying job secured by the end of the day.
"Oh, and I'm taking the robot with me. Anyone have a fucking problem with that?"
Of course, if some psychopath tries to curb-stomp you every other Monday, or someone -- boss or not -- is consistently trying to take advantage of you, you have to do something about it. But standing up like an action star and thinking your next move is going to put an end to the mess, followed by growing orchestra music and credits ... it ain't gonna happen, McClane. The reason those movies are so popular is because it's the only place in life we can experience that feeling of justified revenge.
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"Face Your Fears"
Indiana Jones has to confront his fear of snakes in order to discover the Arc. Luke's physical battle with Vader isn't what completes his Jedi training -- that fight in Empire is about confronting and mastering his fear. Hell, the entire shitty movie Green Lantern doesn't even bother being subtle about it. That idea is literally the plot.
No, seriously, that's it. The monster is actually fear itself. I totally wish I was joking.
A Better Alternative:
"Deal with what's holding you back."
I have two big phobias: heights and spiders. When I say "phobia," I'm not talking about having a normal, healthy fear. I'm talking about actual phobias that are so bad, I can't even look at photos of them. However, one of my jobs here at Cracked is layout, which includes coming up with the pictures and captions for some of the articles you see each week on the site. Including the ones about -- blegh -- spiders. In order for my fears to not affect my job (and by association, my life), I did indeed have to confront that fear.
Now, does that mean I can pick one up and play with it? Ew, no, fuck you for even thinking that. But I did learn to keep myself at least somewhat calm while doing my job. On the other side of that coin:
I can't watch even five seconds of that video without getting so dizzy that I come close to passing out. Even looking at the still shot that YouTube provides before you hit "Play" is enough to take my breath and send bursts of adrenaline up my gut.
There is no goddamn reason for me to face that fear. I'm never going to be in a situation where I have to climb a radio tower or even the stairway to the top of a water slide. I'm not going to wake up to find that I've sleepwalked my way to the rooftop ledge of a skyscraper. Even where spiders are concerned, I only had to confront it enough to get me through the pictures and videos. I'm not going to ever be in a situation where I'm forced to interact with one in a manner that doesn't involve the bottom of my shoe and high pitched, girly screaming.
Though I suppose if I ever get superpowers and am forced to climb a building in order to fight the giant spider that's destroying the city, we're all kind of fucked.
"I say we just let him have the city."
Now, if you have a fear of intimacy, or of working outside of your comfort zone, or meeting new people, or cars, or toothpaste, yeah, you need to sort that shit out. But it's a long process of dealing with these mundane, uncomfortable situations and developing strategies to deal with them. And yes, one of those strategies is to prohibit yourself from simply avoiding those situations at every opportunity. But the Hollywood process of "Bob is afraid of heights, so we show him conquering his fear by bungee jumping" is avoiding the point. If you can get over your fear of job interviews, you can keep right on being afraid of snakes.
"Don't Worry About What Other People Think"
This is the one that drives me crazy, because not only is it just half right, but it's usually the false half that we end up believing. In the movies, what they want you to take from it is that "It's what's inside that matters." Some Kind of Wonderful, Mask (Eric Stoltz, not Jim Carrey), any '80s teen romance that involves a makeover. In many ways, that can be true. But there's another side to that advice.
In a purely literal sense, it's just blatantly false. There are all kinds of situations in which you need to worry about what other people think: job interviews, meeting your girlfriend's parents, the court appearance for your charge of public nudity. On the superficial movie level, yes, it's probably best for your mental health to not let it get to you when the kids in gym class make fun of you for your ridiculously enormous penis.
"Hey, Freak Penis, make sure you don't use up all the soap trying to wash that thing."
A Better Alternative:
"Judge criticism based on the source and situation. Also, don't be a shithead."
But it's really not an issue of acceptance. It's about respect and avoiding misunderstandings. If the person you're talking to doesn't get sarcasm, you modify your communication to avoid using it. It's not about bowing in submission to The Man -- you do it to prevent hurting other people. I have a friend who doesn't eat meat out of a personal moral belief. I'm not going to walk into her house and start cooking a steak, and she's not going to demand that I change my habits when I visit her. It's a mutual respect. In that sense, the advice holds up.
"That looks really good. Hey, you know what would go great with that? Fried hamster."
Where it implodes is when the person following that advice turns their emotions inward and stops caring how their actions are affecting other people. And it's entirely too common. Someone letting loose with a string of cursing around your grandma, who doesn't want to be around that sort of language. When you say something about it, he responds with "Hey, this is just the way I am. If you don't like it, fuck off -- I don't give a shit what you think." I've been that guy to a certain extent, and in some ways I still am. Self-centeredness is a hard demon to kill, and it's harder to recognize that it's even there. I suppose that's why it's still around: Most people don't realize there's even an enemy in the room.
Now does that mean you have to worry about what everyone thinks? Hell no, that's impossible. Ninety percent of the people you encounter in life are random faces you just pass by in the pizza rolls aisle. But you do need to have certain peers and respected figures in your life to prevent you from wearing your pajamas to a funeral or tattooing Boba Fett on your neck.
"No, no, no, I love the outfit. It's just that the other guys might get jealous of how awesome and fancy you look."
No, the problem is when you confront somebody on behavior that's alienating everyone in their life. They will almost certainly play the "I don't care what other people think!" card, as if that is a universal truth that trumps all context or consequences. That really goes for everything on this list; I'm not denying that every piece of advice here has its place. There's a reason phrases like them become cliches. But the temptation is to use them to boil every difficult decision down into a simple phrase that can't be argued with. And I've learned that if life ever seems that simple, you're probably doing it wrong.
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