Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Opinion of Others

I have been asked my thoughts here, and I'm writing it as a blog for a wider audience.

Let's begin at the beginning.

A funny thing about discussing one's own behaviour on the internet is that honesty has become very necessary, because when we talk about ourselves and how we were many years ago, there is a strong chance that somebody who remembers us at that time will be reading. I know that at least half a dozen people who've known me most or all of my life read my blog.

And I contend, with them as witnesses, that what I'm about to say, is the truth.

That, while I have always been a rebel, it was never without a cause.

This is not to say I have always behaved myself, I make no claim to that at all, but in the area of refusal to do certain things, or the opposite, determination to do certain things, against all advice and prevailing opinion, it was having given the matter my full attention, and with the intent to do what was right for me. Indeed, often with the intent to do what's right.

As a child/teenager I was never rebellious just for the sake of it. Which is why I tended to get away with it. Wise people around me might say "Well, she's being bloody awkward, but I do understand why!" and generally it worked out just fine. Even the incident that led to me leaving school prematurely was not really of my doing. With a little flexibility it could have been worked out.

But the point is that by and large my decisions, right from toddlerhood, were based on sound principles. Even when I was wrong. Because decisions are made based on the information at hand.

I wasn't born old, obviously. I was born with a strong personality, and the ability to both think and learn fast, which helps, but I had to learn everything as children do. It just so happens that those who influenced my development, my decision-making skills, and my attitude, were by and large reasonable, intelligent people. Not saints. Not geniuses. But the sort of people who, most of the time, made good choices themselves, gave sage advice, offered encouragement, and were "there for me." I am fully aware that not everyone had that in their lives early on, and that I was very lucky.

In fact, as what we become has a lot to do with everything we've ever experienced, and all of those who we've ever known, I had a distinct advantage. It is possible for a person to evolve personally despite negative experiences, to learn how not to behave from having analyzed negative influences, and to develop wisdom while being shown very little. But it's hard.

It's much easier of you are surrounded by good people.

However, that doesn't mean they are always right. When I was of an age that kids are encouraged to think about their future careers, for example, nobody gave me any good advice. They suggested lots of things that would have been totally unsuitable for me, and which would probably have made me quite miserable, and at the same time, they did not give me the suggestions they should have. I still feel cheated by this, despite the fact that I am totally happy with my life. It doesn't matter now, but I don't want to see it happening to others. The key to this advice, which I wasn't given, and had to figure out slowly for myself, is that the only barriers we face in life to doing exactly what we want are those we create ourselves. Unfortunately, if we don't know that, we never know how to break that first barrier, if you see what I mean.

So, the statement that led to this blog was that you should never listen to the opinion of others. I disagree.

Obviously, there are many people who have been hurt or damaged by the opinion of others. But that doesn't mean you should never listen to it. You should listen to all advice and opinion that comes your way. As much as possible. Because some of it may just be right.

OK, you say, how I do I know which is good advice?

Well, you don't. No more than you know what to believe when you read information online. So, what you do is pay attention, file it away and then sort it all out later, in combination with all the other data you have collected.

There are a few things to remember, however.

The advice of a successful person is better than the advice of an unsuccessful person. 

Yes, there is something to be gained from "don't do as I did, I learned the hard way". Certainly. But it doesn't give you the best alternative. As a young mother, if anyone gave me parenting advice, I considered their kids. How had they turned out? I've had to laugh (discreetly) many, many times at unsolicited advice given by other parents, because, well, if that's what they did, and this is the result? Count me out. It's incredible that they offer any advice at all, having produced poster children for how not to parent, but they do, forcefully, and repeatedly, more so than average. Have you noticed that? It's also interesting when people criticize their own kids. Well who raised them?

This applies to all things of course, business, relationships, even cooking. I knew a girl once who was proud of how she never followed a recipe, but her food was bloody awful. It applies with advice about money, about stain-removal, about dog training, about decorating, about car maintenance, about how to grow beans, you name it, the best person to get advice from is the one with a success story they can actually demonstrate.

It's not foolproof, because what works for one may not work for another, but chances are far higher.

Even the best advice is only useful if you actually take it.

My usual analogy here. If I get asked for a recipe, and get told it didn't turn out well, my first question is always "Did you follow the recipe exactly?" You know what I'm going to say. In fact in all cases where I'm told that some process or other went wrong, I ask "Did you follow the instructions?" The answer is "no" so often, that I get tired of trying to help.

You have to follow through all the way too. If you plant a garden, put the seeds in at the right depth, at the right time, having prepared the soil carefully, then forget to water it, you won't get a good crop. If there are ten steps within the instructions/advice you have to do all of them. I'm sure this stuff drives doctors crazy. It says right on the package, take with food, or take 3 times a day, or take the full course, cover area completely, but people don't follow these instructions, then go back complaining the treatment didn't work.

And that's how all advice is, it's a course of treatment. I've taught the mayo cure for head lice to hundreds of people. Every so often I've been told the lice came back. I ask "Did you do the treatment every day for two weeks?" Sheepish look. Every day for two weeks means every day for two weeks. And so on.

Some people are afraid to admit they don't know what to tell you, so they'll tell you anything.

And, it's very easy to pass "helpful tips!" on via Facebook without checking if they work first.

While we're here let's tackle that. No, you can't heat a room with two candles. Unless it's a very small room. Say, for example, a cat carrier.

I admit I had to look the formula up, because I'm not a heating engineer, but the principle is obvious:

A large candle gives off about the same amount of heat as a human being - about 50 BTUs an hour. So, it will heat about 5 square feet, on a slightly chilly spring day, so long as nobody opens the door.

Candles were invented thousands of years ago. If they were a good source of heat, we'd have discovered this a long, long time ago, trust me.

Skepticism is your friend.

A lot of people are ruled by emotion, rather than logic, and may simply tell you what you want to hear.

Enablers. They think they are being kind, but they're not. Partly because they only hear your side of the story. I see a lot of this on the seller forums at Etsy, with people complaining about a transaction that went wrong. They get a flood of advice on what to do, with every answer assuming they just told the absolute truth.

But if you've ever heard both sides of any dispute, you'll know that's it's rare as rocking horse shit for the two versions to agree. Perception is everything, and it really does affect the outcome.

So, when you seek relationship advice from a person who did not witness the issue that occurred, they are giving you very skewed advice. Along with a sense of "There, there," they are playing right into whatever it was you intended doing next anyway, because it seems like a good idea, with the available information. Even if the story is true, if something was withheld it changes everything.

At some point when you are given advice, you have to use your own skill and judgement to decide whether to take it or not. There are absolutely no guarantees, you have to use experience as a guide, you have to think carefully, and examine all possible outcomes. The opinion of others is what you draw upon, it has been since you were born, and it will always be useful. It is a tool, a library, a selection process, and the opinion of others is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, in and of itself.

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