There were eight of us round the table – granny (now past being involved in serious discussion), my wife and myself, our three sons (aged 29, 34 and 38), a cousin and a family friend (they were aged in their early 30s). Towards the end of the starter (on offer were smoked salmon, liver pate, and fresh oysters), a momentary lull was broken by the question – ‘What is your view about unsolicited advice?’ (questions like this popped up all over the holiday – another conundrum set was ‘How much can people change over years? or ‘are we the same persons we were 10 years ago?’). The discussion on unsolicited advice continued in earnest till the end of the turkey, and even occasionally surfaced later over tea. 

We started with the notion that unsolicited advice was invasive and to be abhorred.  Moreover, as givers of such advice, older people (such as parents) were far too generous! Gradually things shifted with stories about a doctor, who for fear of appearing pushy, had not told an acquaintance that from her appearance she almost certainly had a serious hormone imbalance (confirmed three years later during which time she suffered unnecessarily); about teachers who had a responsibility to ‘advise’ their pupils about unacceptable behaviour (smoking, bullying, insubordination etc); about the hypothetical duty of a car driver to advise (warn) oncoming traffic of an accident ahead (or black ice, or a fire etc); or about the ‘home truths’ from parents and spouses which could often prove valuable even though they often hurt. 

Yes, unsolicited advice could be valuable, but it should only be given sensitively, at the right time, be of real value, and voiced by the right person (someone with the necessary competence and knowledge). When it came to the home life, some parents were clearly better givers than others. As for friends and colleagues, the bossy, repeat advisor, remained totally unacceptable.

So, we oldies got off the hook. Or that was my take. Perhaps others would have reported the discussion differently.

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