Unsolicited Advice: A Manifesto

  1. If someone asks for your opinion or for advice, give it thoughtfully, but avoid giving unsolicited advice.
  2. No matter how right you think you are, you may be wrong. Admitting the possibility now may avoid a great deal of trouble in the future.
  3. Honey is better than vinegar, but sometimes only vinegar will do the trick.
  4. Consensus is preferable, but majority rules.
  5. Use your words. Don’t expect other people to read your mind about what you want. Ask other people to use their words. Don’t guess about what they want: ask them.
  6. Be kind. Be considerate. Be helpful. Smile at people you don’t know and say, “Good morning.”
  7. Have a sense of humor about the absurdity of life and especially about yourself, but don’t make fun of other people in a mean-spirited way and don’t mock them for things they have no control over.
  8. If you are someone who doesn’t express feelings very often, regularly ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”
  9. If you are someone who is constantly thinking about yourself, regularly ask yourself, “What are the people I care about feeling?” and “What are the people around me feeling?”
  10. Be assertive about exercising your rights and getting what you need without being aggressive or mean-spirited.
  11. Anger is not one of the seven deadly sins. Anger is real and happens to everyone and pretending you don’t feel it will slowly kill you and destroy your relationships with others. Learn how to acknowledge your anger – even when it seems irrational – and communicate it to others in appropriate ways. If you tend to express your anger through abuse, demeaning language and violence, ask for help.
  12. Pretty much everyone had a dysfunctional childhood and so pretty much everyone needs help from someone (I recommend trained mental health professionals) to process what that dysfunctional childhood has done to them. If not, the unhealed childhood traumas will regularly be triggered by incidents and people in your current life and you will have no idea whether you are reacting to what is happening now or what happened way back when. Not being able to distinguish between the two will wreak havoc on your mental health, your ability to achieve your goals and your personal relationships.
  13. Stop living in the past and the future. Be here now in the present moment. This moment is the only time we are actually alive.
  14. Curmudgeons, complainers, sourballs and Debbie Downers: feel free to express yourselves, but be aware that blending a little humor into your negativity will make your opinions easier to swallow and lose you fewer friends.
  15. Mental health is not separate from physical health; mental health is a type of physical health.   This is because the mind and the body are not two separate entities, the mind is part of (or a manifestation of) the body. The two things are inseparable.
  16. Color your hair, don’t color your hair.   Doesn’t matter to me.
  17. When you think about money, first realize that (according to one study) a US resident who earns more than $32,400 a year is wealthier than 99% of the world’s population.
  18. When you worry about how you can survive on your income, remember that the median household income for American families in 2015 was $54,462, which means that half of all households made less than that.
  19. Evolution by means of natural selection is the foundation of all biology. Analysis of DNA proves that Darwin was correct when he hypothesized that every living thing is descended from the same single-celled creature. This means we are all family.
  20. Representative democracy, with all its flaws (and there are many), along with a robust Bill of Rights, is still the best way to run a country.
  21. Despite all the complaining about how bad politicians and government bureaucrats are, remember that despite the many obstacles to change, this is still our government, not theirs. They work for us, the people, not the other way around.
  22. Representative government is the best solution to the problem that there are certain goals we want to achieve that can’t be achieved by the effort of individuals acting alone but only by the combined efforts of all of us working together. In a society as big as ours, this solution includes identifying the best people to work on these goals full time so that the rest of us can do what we need to do and collecting contributions from all of us who can afford it to pay for all the things we need to do but can’t do by ourselves.
  23. The USA and I are both engaged in a lifelong struggle between two competing sets of values: individualism and communitarianism. Individualism allows us to say “I can do it myself” and to assert our rights and get what we need, but it can also lead to “I don’t need anyone”, “I won’t ask for help”, “I’m better than you” and “Every man for himself.”   Communitarianism can lead to cooperation and loving kindness and a recognition that some tasks require us all to sacrifice for the common good, but it can also lead to martyrdom, self-abnegation and loss of self-identity through lack of assertiveness and squelching of our individuality.
  24. If we all started on a level playing field and were given the same access to resources and opportunities, I might be a libertarian. But we didn’t, and I’m not.
  25. When deciding what public policies are best, put yourself in the “original position”, where you imagine that you are making decisions without knowing where you rank in society – at the top, at the bottom, or somewhere in the middle – but you acknowledge that some of us start with advantages and others start with disadvantages. Most everyone in the original position would agree that, no matter who else it benefits, every policy we adopt should also benefit the people in society who started out with the most disadvantages. (Thanks, John Rawls.)
  26. All I know is that I know nothing. (Thanks, Socrates.)   Knowledge in the truest sense is beyond our capabilities except in mathematics (2 + 2 = 4, at least in certain universes, is knowable). On the other hand, we must act as if we know things because otherwise we couldn’t make decisions. (Thanks, David Hume.)
  27. Everyone is an asshole some of the time; some people are assholes most of the time; but no one is an asshole all of the time.
  28. Being physically attracted to other people is a natural biological phenomenon that helps to keep our species going. Advertisers and pop culture know that being physically attracted to someone else releases dopamine in your brain, which acts like a drug. The release of the drug will make you want to do things, like spend money, in order to keep the dopamine flowing. Be aware of this and do your best to act according to your best interests and the advice herein, not the dictates of your addictive brain.
  29. Don’t treat people you are attracted to like they are sexual objects first and human beings second.   If they are not interested in your attentions, take the hint and stop it. Again: use your words, ask for permission, and if you don’t get an affirmative “Yes”, stop it.
  30. Never treat people as a means to an end, but only as ends in themselves. (Thank you, Immanuel Kant.)
  31. Mean people suck.   (Bumper sticker.)
  32. Believe in yourself, but remember to leave a little room for some healthy self-doubt.   Self-righteousness and low self-esteem are both pernicious qualities.
  33. You should not be able to exercise an individual right to the extent that it will cause harm to someone else or impinge on someone else’s rights.
  34. Being tolerant of different points of view does not require me to tolerate intolerance.
  35. Even though I’ve rarely met a rank-and-file union member who likes his/her union, I believe that most employees would be better off in a union. Unions are the most effective restraint on the excesses of rampant capitalism.
  36. Celebrate difference, don’t be afraid of it.
  37. Keep learning forever.
  38. Be curious but not nosy.
  39. Engage; don’t isolate.
  40. Ask for help.
  41. For those of us who sometimes think too much, it is amazing how easy it is sometimes to ‘just do it.’
  42. When you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up – we all make mistakes, but accept responsibility for your actions and omissions, make amends if necessary and move on.
  43. Don’t be afraid of contradictions. Embrace the ambiguities.   See if you can get to a place where “Life sucks, then you die” and “Live. Laugh. Love.” can coexist in peace. Each of us contains multitudes. (Thanks, Walt Whitman.)
  44. Don’t worry about complaining – it is a form of expressing your anger and may be necessary for your mental health. On the other hand, be aware that some people cannot endure the sound of someone else complaining, and accept the consequences of your actions.
  45. People pleasers and conflict avoiders: If you continually deny your true self in order to avoid conflict and give others what they want, you will slowly die inside and ultimately be unable to please anyone. Let your true self blossom even if it means a little conflict – the people you deal with may not get everything they want from you anymore, but they will have more respect for you, as you will for yourself.
  46. Only connect. (Thanks, E.M. Forster.)
  47. Take time to appreciate nature and art.
  48. Create. Anything.
  49. Sing whenever possible.
  50. Conserve fossil fuel based energy – there are thousands of ways to do it. Recycle. Reuse whatever you can. Compost if feasible.
  51. Reduce your exposure to advertising. Learn to critically engage with the advertising you are exposed to so that you can make rational decisions about spending your money.
  52. Listen to music. Read books.   Watch movies.
  53. Tell stories.
  54. Don’t plant invasive exotic plant species.
  55. Don’t keep wild animals as pets.
  56. Bike paths are like streets: travel on the right, pass on the left. You, your spouse, your kids, your double-wide stroller and your labradoodle need to move over now before someone gets hurt.
  57. Pedestrians: never enter an intersection on a “Don’t Walk” signal if you can see a car moving towards you. This is not a game of chicken; in a physical confrontation between a human and a car, the human will always lose.
  58. Automobiles: (a) Never enter an intersection if you are not 99% sure you will make it all the way across before the light turns red. Ignore the people behind you honking their horns. (b) If the light turns yellow before you enter the intersection and you are going slowly enough to stop, stop. Only enter an intersection on a yellow light if stopping would be dangerous (high risk of being rear ended) or impossible (going too fast).
  59. When you want to say something difficult to someone else, ask yourself three questions: (1) Is this something that should be said? (2) Is this something that should be said by me? (3) Is this something that should be said by me right now?
  60. If you are doing something that you can’t seem to control and your life is becoming unmanageable as a result, you may have an addiction. Ask for help.
  61. For the depressed: Depression is not the flu – staying at home and sleeping all day will make it worse, not better. Take one tiny step, then another, then another. Brush your teeth and dress yourself neatly. Get out of the house – even if just to the front steps. Go to work if you possibly can. And ask for help.
  62. Pathological individualists: Sit down and be honest with yourself for just a minute about how you got where you are today. Make a list with three columns. In the first column put all the benefits you received before you were old enough to make your own decisions: your parents, your genes, where you were born, when you were born, your early nutrition and education. In the second column, list all the benefits provided by others after you became an adult. Include contributions by your family, friends, governments, businesses and other entities. This may include emotional and financial support, an environment free of deprivation or constant violence, the maintenance of infrastructure such as roads, bridges and transportation systems, quality educational institutions, and businesses (and the economy supporting them) with jobs to offer you.   In the third column, list all the accomplishments you have achieved. Still think you did it all by yourself?
  63. I doubt that good and evil exist as some kind of counterposed Manichean forces, but I do know that sometimes people do evil things and other people suffer because of it. Many such acts are committed by people beset by the scourges of discrimination, poverty, trauma and addiction who feel they have no choice. I believe such people are capable of becoming “productive members of society” if we provide the necessary support, training, counseling and resources. On the other hand, there may be people who are so irreparably damaged that they have no conscience, guilt or moral compass and there may not be any way to restore them to their communities intact. But I hope I’m wrong.
  64. Support locally-owned independent businesses. Except tanning salons and vape-cigarettes.
  65. Eat locally-grown food in season whenever possible. Eat organic if you can afford to. The best reason to eat organically grown food is not to avoid eating trace amounts of pesticide and herbicide but to reduce the huge amount of greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere by traditional farming techniques.
  66. Do your part to reduce noise pollution – don’t operate cars or motorcycles in a way that deliberately creates more noise than necessary. Using rakes and shovels instead of leaf blowers and snow blowers (if feasible) will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as noise.
  67. Make sure you complete your living will and your wishes in case of a catastrophic accident or illness.   Try to have these difficult conversations with your parents or other elderly relatives. Death with dignity means avoiding unnecessary medical treatment at end of life. Remember, modern medical technology has not enabled us to live longer, but only to die slower.
  68. Take steps to make green burials legal in your state, if they aren’t already. The current options – traditional burial and cremation – are costly, wasteful, energy-hogs, although cremation is better than traditional burial if those are the only two choices.
  69. Whenever you are in a conversation, confrontation, negotiation or commercial transaction with someone – from your spouse to your boss/co-worker to the phone company or the waiter at a restaurant – always try to be aware of what you are feeling and what your goals/hopes and fears are. Then try to imagine what it would be like to be in the other person’s position.   What are they feeling? What are their goals? Their fears? What common ground do we have?
  70. Charities are a necessary evil. The better solution would have elected governments tax us fairly and use the money to solve all the problems of society and promote arts and culture. If that happened, charities would be unnecessary and the decisions about what problems should be solved, how much money we need to spend on them and what methods we should use to accomplish our goals would be handled democratically by governments that must be responsive to citizens instead of unelected, undemocratic organizations whose agendas are set by the elite and which are much less accountable to the people than elected governments. On the other hand, charities are essential to the system as it currently exists, since the people do not want their governments to tax us sufficiently to accomplish the work now done by charities.
  71. Corporations are not people.   They should not have the rights of individual people, certainly not the right to contribute money to political campaigns. As long as campaign finance laws permit what is essentially a system of legalized bribery, the best candidates will be discouraged from running for office, and those who do will have their hands tied by the inevitable quid pro quos they make with large contributors.
  72. Just as businesses cannot discriminate against employees on certain grounds, they should also not be able to engage in behaviors that have other negative consequences to society, the environment and the overall economy without being held accountable financially for the damage they create. In making decisions, shareholders of corporations should be required to take into account workplace safety, employee compensation and benefits, environmental issues and other collateral consequences of their decisions, and not just maximization of profits.
  73. We need to stop judging people based on their personal appearance, particularly with regard to aspects of physical appearance over which they have little or no control.   Being attractive does not make you a better person, just as being unattractive doesn’t make you a worse person. We should always be asking ourselves if a person’s physical appearance is leading us to treat them differently and try to surface this tendency and counteract it.
  74. If you go to another country where English is not the primary language, make an effort to learn something of the language of the other country, if only a few common phrases.  This shows respect and contradicts the ‘ugly American’ stereotype, plus you’ll enjoy your trip even more.
  75. Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last. (Thanks, Paul Simon.)
  76. If you like something that someone is wearing, let them know, politely.
  77. Adults having consensual sex: go right ahead, but be responsible. Use birth control and protect against STDs. And before you do it, ask yourself, “Is this what I really want?” and “Is this going to hurt anyone’s feelings?”
  78. Every once in a while, notice something about your environment. Look closely at a bee on a flower, or an architectural detail on a building you pass every day. Listen to a song you’ve heard a hundred times as if you are hearing it for the first time. Take a moment to explore the features on the face of someone you love the way you’d explore a newly-discovered country.
  79. Be open to discovering what makes you laugh out loud and make sure to return to those things regularly. Laughter is the best medicine. (Thanks, Reader’s Digest.)
  80. When you find a movie, book or other work of art “depressing”, remember that: (1) this artist took a “depressing” topic and created art from it, which is really kind of inspiring, and (2) unless you suffer from clinical depression, your “depressing” is pretty mild stuff and you’ll get over it. Maybe you’re not really “depressed” but actually sad and maybe there are some things we need to feel sad about in order to be fully human.
  81. Talk to animals whenever the opportunity arises. It will bring out the best in you.
  82. Parenting tips: Don’t raise your child to fulfill your unrealized dreams. Don’t depend on your children to give your life meaning and purpose. Don’t treat children like they are adults. Don’t ask your children to fulfill your unmet emotional needs.   Encourage their enthusiasms and give them freedoms commensurate with their age and maturity. Create structure and establish limits; set reasonable expectations. Respect them and cherish them and hug them often. Don’t shame them for showing their feelings, especially their fears. Don’t expect them to learn from your words if they contradict your actions.
  83. Anxiety is contagious; so is goodwill.
  84. Move your body around in any way that feels good, preferably rhythmically to music or on paths in natural places, as often as possible. Straight men who won’t dance: get over yourselves. Your dance partners will be forever grateful.
  85. Instead of cocooning yourself in the culture you were raised in, learn about and expose yourself to the cultures of your parents’ and children’s generations. Don’t get stuck in the “back in my day” or “kids these days” ruts, or the cultural amnesia that is fixated only on what’s happened since you were a kid. There are songs and movies and books from every era that you may find appealing – and the old and young alike will appreciate you for reaching out of your comfort zone to share something they are familiar with.
  86. Learn about history of your family, of your nationality/ethnicity, your country, your religion, your world. We can’t go forward if we don’t have knowledge of what came before.
  87. Discrimination is not a two-way street. If you are a man, you are sexist, whether consciously or not. If you are white, you are racist. If you are straight, you are homophobic/anti-gay. The world is divided into the historical oppressors and the historically oppressed. Those of us in the oppressor categories (straight white males in particular) need to recognize and take steps to acknowledge and neutralize the oppressors inside us and work to destroy the institutional sexism, racism and homophobia that are embedded in our culture, our economy and our educational and government institutions through centuries of organized oppression.
  88. Recognizing the history of oppression embedded in a person’s history does not make that person a victim or deprive that person of active agency in his or her life, just as helping to understand how trauma and physical and mental illness affect people does not make those sufferers into victims.
  89. The largest minority group in the US is Hispanics/Latinos, who make up 16 percent of the population.   Blacks/African-Americans are the second largest, with 12 percent of the population. (Note: Some African-Americans also identify as Hispanic/Latino.) While I applaud the effort to bring more black actors, directors and stories to Hollywood movies, where is the outcry about the lack of Hispanic/Latino actors, directors and stories? And shouldn’t we all be learning to speak Spanish, so we can communicate with each other?
  90. The most basic human instinct is the instinct for self-preservation and the most basic human fear is the fear of death. Second to death is the fear of pain.  So much of what we do to avoid feeling emotional pain – including numbing ourselves with addictive substances – only leads to more pain later.  Feel the pain now – get it over with.  If it seems like too much, ask for help.
  91. The most powerful human motivation is self-interest, but self-interest can be defined in many ways.   Self-interest may be narrow or broad, enlightened or unenlightened. Some people define their self-interest in purely materialistic terms – more possessions, more financial security, more comfort, more luxury, better health, longer life – while others define it in terms of happiness: the love of family and friends, lack of conflict, lack of suffering, peace, enjoyment of the world around me. Some find that making the world a better place is in our self interest. That preserving the rainforests, reducing the raising of large animals for meat, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, alleviating hunger, poverty and disease all over the world, increasing tolerance and compassion and finding ways to resolve conflicts without violence are all in our self interest.
  92. It is OK to have faith in religion or in a set of spiritual or religious beliefs, as long as you have tolerance for those who do not share your faith. And please do not proselytize.  If I am curious about your beliefs, I will ask you about them.
  93. I have faith in science.   While I recognize that science has not answered every question about the nature of humans and the universe we live in, I have faith that it will and that the tools and methods of science are the best way to answer those questions. On the other hand, I recognize that science (and academia in general) consists of the efforts of flawed humans and is itself an imperfect process.
  94. I believe that the universe (at least since the Big Bang) follows the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. I don’t believe in supernatural beings or spirits or energies; I don’t believe in ghosts or auras or immortal souls. I believe that our minds and spirits are manifestations of our physical brains and that when our brains die, we die.
  95. Include these phrases in your daily interactions with others: “Please”, “Thank you”, “You’re Welcome”, “Can I help you?” and “I’m sorry.”
  96. Feeling feelings is an all-or-nothing proposition. If you don’t allow yourself to feel pain, you won’t be able to feel joy. If the pain hurts too much to feel it, ask for help.
  97. If you love someone, tell him/her frequently.
  98. Be as honest as you can with others without causing them undue pain. Remember that when you do something hurtful, lying about it to the person you hurt (including lies of omission) will ultimately cause more pain than telling the truth.
  99. Love is not a feeling; it is something you do. You may feel happiness, infatuation, lust, compassion, tenderness, attraction, sympathy or empathy and call it “love” but love is actually a series of decisions that you make every day. We really do make love, not only in the sexual sense (though that is something to celebrate), but through our actions and our words. Love not only means saying you’re sorry (and thank you) as often as necessary, but making restitution, making sacrifices and sometimes doing things you don’t feel like doing (or not doing things you feel like doing) because it is the loving thing to do. Love can be an emotional rollercoaster and sometimes the work is too hard, the sacrifices are too many and the trust is irreparably broken, and the relationship must end. But don’t mistake a temporary change in your feelings or the need to do hard work as a sign that you’ve made a mistake or that you are no longer “in love.” You have little or no control over whom you are attracted to and who is attracted to you, but everything after that is a matter of choice.
  100. If someone breaks Rule No. 1 and offers you unsolicited advice and you have time to hear it, listen politely and say thanks.   Then take anything you find useful and leave the rest.

JMB 12/28/16

2 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: A Manifesto

  1. Linda Streck

    Best posting ever ! It will takes some time to work my way through this but it’s wise and impressive and funny at times. Love your work in pulling so much together. Inspirational .

    Sent from my iPad


    1. beckchris

      Thanks, Linda. I was a little worried it might be perceived as “too much information” or “oversharing” – I’m glad you don’t think so.


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