Advice seeking replaces real thought

Advice columns are one of the first features I turn to in any newspaper, following the obituaries. While the obituaries often leave me wishing I had known the deceased while they were alive, advice columns have the opposite effect.

Nowhere is a greater amount of ignorance assembled for public display than in the advice columns. They repeatedly prove there are such things as stupid questions, and in spades. I put down the newspaper feeling like a Rhodes Scholar because if nothing else, I’m smart enough to not seek life’s answers from advice columnists.

Truthfully, I read advice columns because I no longer live in an apartment complex where I can rely on thin walls and thick-headed neighbors for entertainment. Plus, I’m at work while the Jerry Springer show airs and TV soap operas reign, so I have to get my vicarious fix by reading about other people’s problems.

Many letters start out this way: “Dear Advice Columnist, My spouse (child, co-worker, neighbor, etc.) and I can’t agree on this issue, so we’re writing to have you settle the bet.”

They’ve lost me right there. The thought of my husband saying “We’re taking this to a higher authority – Dear Abby!” is ridiculous.

If we already can’t agree on a solution, I can’t imagine us agreeing to turn it over to a Carolyn Hax, Heloise, Bruce Williams, Dr. Gott, or Suze Orman for the final word. Who’s got the luxury of putting a truly burning issue on hold?

Case in point: A mother recently wrote to Dear Abby after hacking into her teenage son’s e-mail account, discovering that his girlfriend was pregnant, and learning that he was feeling depressed and suicidal. The mother had written, worried, because she had violated parent/child etiquette by snooping and wondered what she should do with the information gained through inappropriate means.

Dear Advice Seeker, let me diagnose the problem in the way Dear Abby was too gutless to: Your family is burning down around you and instead of grabbing a bucket of water, you write an advice columnist in hope she will pick your letter to answer from among the thousands she receives each week?!

The first thing you need to do is remove your head from the sand and/or the body crevice from where it appears to be lodged. Put down your pen and establish a direct relationship with your son. Replace detective work with dialogue and start thinking for yourself. Take meaningful action. Deal with reality instead of expecting other people to do it for you.

But in a world where people regularly look for happiness outside of themselves, it made twisted sense this woman went shopping for external answers. As with most modern problems, it was traceable to the technologies that have both transformed our lives and succeeded in speeding the collective dumbing down of our populace.

Why bother to learn basic math when you’ve got a calculator, spelling when you’ve got an on-line dictionary, history when you can Google it, or problem-solving when you can ask a stranger, albeit a national expert?

One of the saddest days was when the game shows that used to pay out in Rice-a-Roni started letting contestants poll the audience or call friends for answers versus using their own noodles. There was already enough non-thinking going on without awarding cash prizes for ignorance.

Back among the advice column inquirers are people whose questions reveal entirely too much time on their hands and space between their ears. Someone wrote to Dear Abby that a brother had died at 11 PM June 12 in Wyoming, which was 1 AM June 13 in Connecticut, where the writer lives. Which date should she get tattooed on her body to memorialize him?

Why not just have “IDIOT” tattooed across the forehead? I’d perform the work for free in the name of truth in advertising.

Another advice seeker seriously asked what to do when you sit on a squeaky seat that makes a noise like you passed gas. My thought? As no one will believe your denials, go ahead and pass some gas. If you’re going to do the time, why not do the crime? Sound advice, indeed.

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