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The Worst Advice Ever
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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Advice comes in all shapes and sizes, from the really bad—“form a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois!”—to the really good—“don’t buy stuff you can’t afford.” Just for fun, I recently asked readers on my Facebook page about the worst advice they had ever been given.

Many people seemed to regret their education. They didn’t pursue dreams because they were supposed to go to university, and now they have debt and no real joy in their jobs. Others, of course, regretted not getting an education in the first place.

But the vast majority of the litany of complaints had little to do with jobs and lots to do with relationships. Manipulation 101, for instance, was resented by scads of people. One woman wrote how early in her marriage her mother had told her she had better “lay down the law with her husband” if she wanted him to do things her way. Another woman’s mom said the same thing: “marry someone you can push around.” And aunts got in on the picture, too: “buy a book on training puppies and use it on him!” Then there’s the whole “withhold affection to get you what you want” line. I’m not sure how making one’s spouse miserable is supposed to make you happy, but it was a common theme nonetheless. Or how about “encourage your husband’s affections by flirting with other men”? Jealousy promotes closeness, does it? And then there’s “let him suffer a bit before accepting an apology.” Who would want to do something mundane like forgiving so you can build intimacy again?

The decisions to start a family were also quite frequently lambasted. I had his myself: when I was working on my Master’s degree, a graduate supervisor congratulated me on my miscarriage, saying that now I would be able to pursue my Ph.D. unhindered. I still hold my head in shame that I didn’t give her an earful at the time. But it seems many in academia and the job world hold similar disparaging views of marriage or motherhood. One teacher reports she was told she was too talented to waste herself by getting married. Others were told not to waste their intelligence by staying home with the kids.

But probably the saddest responses were from the women who were told they should have abortions. Those respondents now ache for what they’re missing.

I’m sure we could all rattle off our own lists of truly awful advice, but when you look at all of these, they can all be summed up in this one little gem: “Don’t worry about anyone else. Do what is best for you!” That’s the kind of advice people crave when they’re trying to justify an affair, or a ridiculous purchase, or ignoring one’s family. It’s not the kind of advice, though, that is going to help one iota at building real happiness.

Doing what seems best for us, with no thought to others, means that we lead pretty lonely lives because we push others away. Life without love at the centre is hardly gratifying. When you’re trying to make an important decision, then, and someone is giving you advice, ask yourself: will this advice make me lonelier, or will it build relationship? Does it honour my values, or does it try to take shortcuts? And if it doesn’t build love, chuck it. That’s what this woman decided to do: “I just looked at my mother’s life and decided I didn’t want to be anything like her,” she said. “So everytime my mother gave advice, I went out and did the exact opposite!” In all too many cases, that’s the best advice you could follow.

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At 8:41 AM , Blogger Lori Alexander said…

So GOOD! Joyce Meyer has been speaking about this a lot on TV...the love walk. Serving God by serving others is what brings true happiness.


At 10:55 AM , Blogger Jeanne said…

The worst advice I ever got was when my daughter died suddenly in a car accident, I was told, "Don't be surprised if your marriage breaks up... Many do after losing a child!". But then many who never knew this kind of loss gave stupid advice and stupid comments!


At 11:19 AM , Blogger Sheila said…


Oh, I'm so sorry about your daughter! And I completely agree with you about that advice. When our son died, the doctors said to us, "you should know that 50% of marriages in this circumstance break up within a year." Gee, thanks.


At 12:11 PM , Blogger Mary R. said…

How absolutely AWFUL that anybody would say that after the death of a child!!! Most people just need to SHUT UP and say nothing. We had some parishioners who lost a handicapped daughter, and they were so hurt when people said, "Oh, well...she was handicapped," as if that would ease their pain, like they'd be relieved to be rid of her. And, no, their marriage didn't break up.


At 7:43 PM , Anonymous Bree said…

My worst advice came from my mother who told me not to tell anyone about sexual abuse otherwise noone would ever love or want to marry me


At 8:34 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Oh, Bree, that is so sad! How awful. I hope you've discovered that that is a total lie. How sad that your mother would seemingly victimize you twice--once the actual abuse, and twice making you think that that abuse has to define your entire life and limit it. God is way bigger than anything people can do to us!


At 6:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Let's hope both women in the photo took someone's advice and quit smoking!


At 8:18 AM , Blogger thesewinggeek said…

My worst advice given to me was "you need to stop being so sensitive" this is in relationship to my seeing needs in other people and trying to bring it to the attention of those that can help. For years I thought this was a bad trait in me. I seem to be able to find the - if someone is acting this way then maybe there is a reason- thing.
Now I am seeing it as a gift from God. Yes I have to watch that the emotions do not drain me and how available I make myself to others but I am so glad God gave me this gift so that I can use it to be more like Jesus. Would Jesus tell me that caring was a bad thing?


At 8:25 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Sewing Geek,

It's funny, but I've been praying lately that God would make me MORE sensitive. I used to tear up all the time in compassion, but now it seems harder for me. So I envy your sensitivity!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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