COLM O'REGAN: It’s much easier to fix someone else’s problems rather than my own

It may surprise you to know that these columns sometimes are a bit of a struggle to write. I know! You’d be thinking - surely there can’t be much skill required in horsing out 600 words off the top of one’s head on a topic you’ve no formal qualifications to write about?

Well believe it or not, there are occasions when even The Inconsequential Fluff Muse deserts a man and it becomes a struggle to transfer words from the brain to the keyboard.

I’ll tell when they’re not a struggle though: When I’m giving advice. I LOVE giving advice – it’s one of my secret foibles after all you can’t spell advice without vice.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s solicited or not - the words just flow. A few days ago in reply to an email, I interpreted a small request for limited help as an excuse to crank up the old Advice-atron and turn it up to eleven. Before I knew it I’d written 400 words in ten minutes and pressed send.

Missiles containing advice zinged their way to the recipient who no doubt was puzzled to get such a complicated reply to a simple question.

Phrases such as “Well I’m not an expert of course ... “ and “What I would do (but of course every situation is different)” seemed self-deprecating at first glance but are actually leaving the reader in no doubt that they should “please be advised.”

What I would give for that kind of productivity elsewhere in my writing. Four hundred words takes much longer than 10 minutes because there is the inevitable detour along the way to some article on the Internet about “15 Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know and Now That You Do Know, Life Has Not Really Changed That Much”. For example did you know that in Danish, the equivalent of raining cats and dogs is actually “Det regner skomagerdrenge” which translates as “ It’s raining shoemakers’ apprentices.”

Advice can of course be annoying for the advised, particularly if they didn’t ask for it and especially particularly if the person doling out the advice has things they should be working on in their own life.

That’s why I like giving it – it’s much easier to fix someone else’s problems rather than my own because I don’t have to do any follow up or deal with the consequences. Technically speaking if you give professional advice you should really deal with the consequences but if you’ve ever heard of the Irish Banking Inquiry you’ll know that’s only talk.

The Bible even has a go at this and while it may be off on lots of things such as shellfish and cannibalism it’s quite savvy on advice – “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” according to Matthew’s Gospel.

Spoilsports! The brother’s sawdusty eye has been a topic of conversation all around the family and what needs to be done with it. And anyway my eye-plank is kind of quirky and more of a feature than something in need of fixing.

Even if I lay off the advice, no one is going to notice. WE are shortly heading into an advice-boom - the lead up to a general election. Special advisors will surround politicians from now until November/February to advise their charges not to say anything that might be consitutued a gaffe. The best gaffes are ones where the politician inadvertently says what’s actually on their mind before checking with their advisor.

It is here that the advisor must maintain an advice-like grip.

Keep an eye out for the ill-advised statements from now on. It’ll shorten the winter.


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