By Siddharth Gundapaneni
Lately, you and your best friend Jimmy haven’t been on the best of terms. Jimmy’s taken issue with another friend of yours, Bob, and wants you to pick between him and Bob. Thus, you decide to speak to Jimmy and try to explain that Bob is not such a bad guy, and if Jimmy would just get to know Bob, he’d realize that as well. Jimmy has a tendency to laugh a lot in serious situations, and does so throughout your conversation, but you know that he means no disrespect. Unfortunately by the end of your conversation, Jimmy does not listen to you, and still believes Bob is a bad person.
The next day, you express your frustration about Jimmy’s lack of receptiveness to another friend, Franklin, who does not know Jimmy. You start by giving Franklin the rundown of your conversation the prior day. You mention in passing that Jimmy was laughing a lot during the conversation. Franklin ends up telling you that you should not be friends with Jimmy, as he does not take you seriously, and thus your relationship with him is toxic.. Because of your frustration with Jimmy, you are not considering every small detail, and as a result believe that Franklin gave reasonable advice—so you go ahead and stop talking to Jimmy.
The protagonist of this hypothetical didn’t act unreasonably at any point, nor did Franklin in giving advice, given the information he possessed. But was the optimal outcome for Jimmy and the protagonist reached? I don’t believe so.
Whenever one asks advice from someone in regards to a relationship with another, the advice will always be flawed in one way or another. As shown in the oversimplified hypothetical, since Franklin did not know that Jimmy’s inappropriately timed laughter was not a sign of disrespect, but rather just part of who they are, Franklin lacked important context in assessing the situation. This can lead to suboptimal assessments made by the advisor, and likewise suboptimal decisions being made by the receiver of said advice.
In reality, no two people possess the exact same relationship with a third individual. We all perceive each other in very different ways. Even if two people meet someone together, the two can walk away with completely different judgements of the third person, despite sharing the same experience. We perceive other people based on a variety of factors related to our previous experience with others, our self-perception, and our values. Each of those things vary greatly from person to person. For that reason, two people never really know the same person.
Because of this, advice given about a third party can never be perfectly applicable to your own life. This is especially relevant in today’s age of social media. There’s an increasing awareness among young adults about words like gaslighting, projecting, shaming, and many other related terms which may signal such a toxic relationship. Unfortunately, because of the phenomenon described above, many of these terms are undeservingly applied to the behavior of friends, family, co-workers, and more.
Because someone you ask for advice does not possess the same relationship with the third party as you do, there may be many subtle actions that are completely misinterpreted, and due to the increased awareness of toxic relationships and signs to look out for, people are quick to label others as guilty of “red flag” actions like gaslighting. This gross miscommunication among people, driven by misleading advice, has exacerbated what many term “cancel culture,” the ostracization of someone for something they said or did, regardless of the truth or context behind it.
Now let me be explicit about a few things that could be misinterpreted from what I have written thus far:
Foremost, none of this is to say that people should not ask others for advice, nor that advice is entirely useless. There are many situations in which one’s judgment may be clouded due to their relationship with someone else, in which consulting a third party may be useful. Furthermore, sometimes just talking about a situation can provide necessary clarity, regardless of the response. Asking for advice should not be avoided by any means, and is typically better than suffering in silence. The takeaway should be that advice should always be taken with a grain of salt, and people should cautiously understand that the person they seek advice from has a different perception of the one in question.
Next, education and awareness about “red flags” in relationships are not necessarily bad things. Do I believe that sometimes terms are misconstrued by teenagers on Instagram? Yes. Does that mean I think these terms have no meaning and are not real problems in our society? Of course not. As a society, we must be more deliberate in deciding whether to publicly ostracize someone, and really think about whether that’s what they deserve.
Finally, we should reserve any criticisms of those giving misinformed advice. There is typically no malice in those who offer advice to you, and they are likely not trying to mislead you. That is simply an inherent risk to asking advice of somebody who shares a different relationship with the one for whom advice is being sought.
Navigating social situations can be tricky. Oftentimes a mix of advice taken from friends and family, along with meticulous introspection of yourself and the situation at hand, is the best way to proceed through difficult situations. It’s important to be considerate of how your words can affect another’s life, so we can have a more loving, friendly society.