nobody wants to hear what you would have done differently if you were them

years ago, i was hanging out with group of pals. one of them had just bought a car. i asked what they wound up getting, they told us, and i think i said something along the lines of, “i’ve read that the engines in those have a tendency to spin the bearings due to poor oil circulation.” one of my other pals said, “just what everyone wants to hear: you bought a lemon.”

that short exchange has stuck with me since because it really illuminated what a downer and know-it-all i can be. my friend was happy about their new car, why did i go and piss on their parade? the car was already bought so my info wasn’t useful to them. it was just irritating. what’s even worse is i know i have probably made countless similar downer comments in the past. it makes me wonder why my friends have stuck with me for so long. being negative is one thing but being a smug know-it-all is far more loathsome, in my opinion.


i did an image search for “smug” and this was at the top of the results. that look captures what i’m driving at.

i don’t want to be that kind of person so i’ve made an effort since then to be more aware of how i speak to people. now when someone is telling me about how shitty their divorce was, i try not to chime in with some stupid hot tip like, “well doug, i’ve personally found that open communication is key to a healthy relationship. maybe you should have talked with your wife more.” now, before i open my mouth, i think, “doug has had several years to mull his divorce over and he’s probably already realized the mistakes he made. i don’t need to tell him stuff he already knows. it’s probably best to just listen to him.”

of course there are times when it’s fine to offer advice, like when someone asks you for it, or if a friend is considering doing something and you want to make sure they’re aware of some risk before they do it. that’s totally different from lecturing people, beating them over the head with stuff they’ve already figured out on their own, or giving them advice after it’s too late.

here’s another anecdote to illustrate my point: i had a barn built on my property last year. jenn and i gave it lots of thought before construction and knew what we wanted. it was built, and we are very happy with it. since then, i’ve had a lot of neighbours come over and say stuff like, “looks great. is there any plumbing in it? why didn’t you make the hay loft into a suite that you could rent out? that’s what i would have done. OSB for the walls, you’re not going to drywall it? that’s what i would have done.” why would they think i care at all about what they would have done? i didn’t build it for them, i built it for me, and i like it this way. telling me what they dislike about my new barn sure doesn’t endear them to me.

if those clods had any mind at all, they would simply say, “nice garage, looks great. makes me think about building one myself.”

just like i should have said, “congrats on the new car, i’m happy for you,” many moons ago.


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