By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
There are some people, you know, who scatter advices like confetti, without trying to find out if their advice has a strong resemblance to interference, which may be resented by the person to whom the advice has been given. There is a very rrow path to tread between giving advice and interfering in someone’s life. Advice is sometimes treated as interference and it is often true. Intentiolly or unintentiolly we often incur displeasure from friends and relations, because we cannot stop ourselves from giving advice or offering suggestions. It has become almost a habit with some of us to poke our nose into almost everything under the sun, which is not really our concern.
Any expectant mother may feel overwhelmed by the number of ‘good’ and contradictory advices coming in a stream from numerous friends, relatives and well-wishers. She might be living a perfectly normal and happy life without tension and without being the least bothered about her state of health or the coming the baby. But advices pouring out from all those well-wishers may make her nervous and apprehensive. Even a well-balanced sensible person may turn into a mass of nerves because of all these conflicting advices. Hence it is obvious that some advices do more harm than good to the recipient, who just cannot ask the adviser to shut up. One has to put up with them reluctantly, though with resentment. Unsolicited advices are common in our country.
There are certain rituals, which are common in our country, which we have to follow whether we like or not. Those are obligatory and we dare not go against them. Yet the times are changing and some people belonging to the modern generation, do not hold with the ancient customs. These things are obvious in many cases. For instance, in earlier times death in a family implied lots of customs and rituals to follow, which caused physical and mental hardships to the members of the family. They were not supposed to eat for some days or cook food and things like that. Well-wishers advised them to follow the rituals rigidly. They were of course of great help in those difficult times and they used to bring fruits and other things which the family needed. Some people from the older generation still observe these practices.
But today many of these outdated customs have been discarded as irrelevant by most of the people. Mourners are served tea, sweets, biscuits etc. in many of these bereaved homes and usually they do not mind. Yet there are still some people, who condemn such modern practices and offer unsolicited advice to the family regarding their deviation from the norms. But the family turally resents such interference with their life style. I think that we should not really interfere with others’ life style and practices, since it amounts to the height of impertinence.
The same kind of interference (or advice, if you prefer) also can be noticed in weddings or other functions. Of course some people, who offer advice, may genuinely feel that by giving advice they are only helping somebody. But they should also remember that unwanted advice may be deemed as gross interference, and it may also lead to some acrimonious situation. There is no dearth of advisers. If one asks for advice or suggestions, it is another matter. But unsolicited advices are resented by most of the people. Possibly you too have come across such people, who do not realise how annoying their unwanted advice may be to some people. Their suggestions may be termed as officiousness. I have a sneaking suspicion that I too am not entirely free from this fault, though I have been trying hard to restrain myself, whenever I feel like offering advices to somebody. But I also know that it is very difficult to desist from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
One character, who is always accused and despised for offering unwanted advices all the time, is the poor mother-in-law. She is condemned as a malicious person meddling in the lives of her son and his wife. It is said that with her needless advices she always tries to wedge a rift between the couple. She is supposed to be a busybody, who always gives advice in every matter to her fuming daughter-in-law, like magement of her home and the children. She makes valuable suggestions on cooking, or gardening, or child care or any other activity. The unwanted advices turally infuriate a modem daughter-in-law, who believes that she can do very well without these “do gooders”. So there is some basis of truth when the daughter-in-law accuses the mother-in-law for putting a span in their persol lives. In fact, there is only a very thin line of demarcation between advice and interference. That is why the daughter-in-law considers the mom-in-law as a home-wrecker. She blames the mother-in-law for any and everything under the sun. But should we not consider the senior member’s point of view as well? It is difficult for a mother not to be apprehensive about the way her young and inexperienced daughter-in-law runs her home and family. She feels that she has more experience and her ideas turally are sounder. She may not have any intention of interfering or disturbing the peace in her family. But she wants to help them and feels that she can do that. So if she feels that they are not going the right way she tries to correct them. But it is also true that though her ideas might be sounder, still it is wrong for her to offer advice, which is neither asked for nor entertained.
Of course I do not mean to say that all mothers-in-law belong to the interfering category. There are many, who are non-interferers. They may not approve of everything they see and may worry about some of the things. But the wise mother-in-law never interferes or offers advice unless asked for. They are the ones who are appreciated and respected by the family. Yet even the wisest amongst them may sometimes offer suggestions on some issue or another, which should not be deemed as interference by the family.
But not only the mothers-in-law are interfering; in fact, more often than not there is interference from the entire family. Often somebody from the family or even a friend comes to your house and sweeps a condemtory glance around the room, covering everything in it. Then they would advise you as to how to maintain a house or how to bring up your children. turally you would resent their officiousness and would be perfectly right in pointing out that it is none of their business and they should not trespass into prohibited areas. Perhaps good manners would restrain us from saying what comes to our minds—but that does not mean that we take kindly to their criticism.
We all have, I suppose, interfering friends and relatives, who are well- meaning, but do not know when or whether they should do it; that is, whether they should give advice or when they should make suggestions. It is not that we should never make suggestions. It is a fact that sometimes we do need advices from trustworthy relatives or friends. We really want people to take interest in us. There are times when we want the opportunity to pour out all our problems and share our troubles with somebody. Sharing sufferings with another does lessen it considerably and we feel more confident and comfortable. That is the time when we want somebody, who would listen to us sympathetically and would make positive suggestions as to what we should do. In such times we welcome advice from them. But there are other times when we just want to be left alone with some persol emotions or it may be some deep sorrow, which cannot be shared with anybody. At that time sympathetic interest becomes a kind of unforgivable intrusion. Very few people relish unsolicited advice. I may think that somebody (a friend or a relative) is not bringing up her child properly or that by over-indulgence she is spoiling the child. But if I say it, she would surely not like it and it would be terribly rude and improper of me to give her advice as to how she should bring up her children. Sometimes we may have a genuine desire to help a friend or somebody. But in spite of my good intention the person concerned may not want to talk about her problems, and if I persist in questioning her, I am not really helping her. Actually I will be only prying into her affairs, which she would not like at all.
Of course that does not mean that we should cut ourselves off from friends and relatives. In that case we would be very lonely and people would condemn us as arrogant, proud and an introvert. After all, we are social beings and as such we cannot exclude our friends from our lives. The world is full of good and wise people. Hence we should not really spurn their suggestions as interference, since they may be genuine well-wishers. There is a difference between people who really want to help and those who want to derive malicious pleasure by finding faults of somebody to discredit him/her. Hence all advices should not be ignored, as some may be quite helpful to the concerned person.
And I do think that if somebody faces a problem and asks for advice, we should not refuse to give it and to the best of our ability we should try to help the person. And those of us, who care for friends, relatives and others so much that we feel obliged to give some good advice, should remember that there is a right way and right time for doing it, and that suggestions should be made in the kindest and most tactful way imagible.
It is very true that all the people who advise us without asking or give suggestions may not have any malicious ideas—and they may be genuinely interested in our welfare. Yet everybody may not like it. Even children, after they become adults, do not need our advice; rather they resent it and often condemn the parents as interfering busybodies. It is only tural that the parents may not approve of some of the things their adult children might have done— and it is difficult to keep quiet about it. Yet they have to control their impulse to give advice, as most of the adult children resent the advice of the parents as interference. If one’s own children cannot take advice gracefully, it is easily understood how bitterly others would resent them. Hence it is best to keep silent and to give advice only when asked for. The eminent writer Oscar Wilde once said, “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself’. Perhaps the remark is cynical, but there is truth in it.
We do need good advice occasiolly and others too may need them. If anybody does need it, we should certainly help the person as best as we can. As Charles Stewart Powell said, “Get the advice of everybody whose advice is worth having—they are very few—and then do what you think best for yourself”. I suppose that is the crux of the matter.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)