Are The Agony Aunt’s Views Justified?

Posted on August 19, 2011 in Specials

By Yayaati Joshi:

“Why is it that people who can’t take advice always insist on giving it?” - James Bond, Casino Royale

The above quote, by the supremely sarcastic James Bond, was flung at the caution-giving Vesper Lynd. Annoyed at the constant questioning of methods and unwanted advice on just about everything, Bond couldn’t stop himself from keelhauling Vesper. That he did so in a charming manner with a sly smile on his face is a different matter altogether.

Now, I don’t claim to possess half the charisma of Bond, but I am equally annoyed by the number of people who give me advice all the time, on almost everything-how to look smarter by trimming my beard, how to drive slower (and not put my life at risk), how to attend social functions such as marriages (and the alleged positive effects of socialising), and so on and so forth.

The hard part for me is this: Unlike Bond, a suave demeanour doesn’t come naturally to me, and my inherently uncouth nature leaves little scope for any insidious admonishment. It has to be done the hard way-I have to ask people to shut up.

But it seems that the suggestion-giving isn’t limited to people. Even writers (and fancy using that term to describe the birdbrains who ‘write’ such columns) of tabloids and newspapers are relationship experts and agony aunts in their own way. One often reads words like these: “Commitment is not only being loyal, but also the acknowledgement that any dishonest behaviour can potentially hurt your partner”, or “The easiest way to deal with your draconian boss is to ensure you always meet deadlines. That way, he will never get a chance to disrespect you”.

Who on earth gives the agony aunts and the relationship experts the right (and the knowledge) to give their advice on everything?

Couple of things related to the subject in question, which are beyond my realm of understanding:

  • How can the agony aunts accurately predict the outcome of their suggestions? (Reference-“Make sure you check your wife’s eyes when she’s telling you about her college crush. If she looks here and there, chances are that she might still have a thing for him. The key is to read her eyes.”) What if the man misreads his wife’s eye movements?
  • How can the experts put themselves in someone else’s shoes? (Reference-“When I have to deal with an arrogant co-worker, I usually follow a soft approach.”) What if the situation is completely different? What if reticence has been mistaken for arrogance? Wouldn’t a soft conversation be better, rather than a pseudo mind-game that the expert endorses?

The advice giving has gone too far. It isn’t limited to relationships, work, dressing, fashion, etiquettes or family issues-it now includes something as personal as getting laid!

It amazes me how people are willing to seek help for such personal issues. After all, we’re so connected, aren’t we? Friends (for what they’re worth) are a phone call away. We have Wikipedia and You Tube at our disposal. Why, then, do we need to depend on expert opinions of these agony aunts?

Our personal experiences, no matter how vastly ‘variegated’, have their limitations. Chief amongst them is the lack of application to someone else’s situation. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Agony Aunts and experts fail to understand that. They come for different backgrounds-movies, politics, writing, even law enforcement-I remember C.B.I. Director Joginder Singh used to be a motivational writer for a leading Hindi newspaper.

Given that no human being is infallible, isn’t it stupid:

a) On someone’s part to seek help from an unknown person (usually a lousy suffragette)?
b) On someone’s part to give advice to someone else, not knwing the nuances of the situation?

What do you think? Do share your views in the comments section below.