It’s amusing to postpone looking at the answer imagining how you might respond before you look at what Dear Abby or Ann Landers has to say.
The British call advice-giving writers (mostly women) “agony aunts.” This suggests a kind and elderly relative dispensing bits of wisdom. One can almost hear her say “Ah my child, when you have lived as long as I have, you cannot help having acquired some experience and knowledge of the ways of the world.”
Sometimes, the advice givers take the easy way out suggesting you consult a specialist: Alcoholics Anonymous, a marriage counselor or an abused women’s shelter. I prefer more original approaches.
The questions are sometimes surprisingly naive. Someone might write: “I have been married for 15 years to a very nice man but he often belittles me in front of other people.” (That is a nice man? and why did you wait 15 years before complaining?) or “I have a wonderful wife but she never stops talking when we have guests.” (One wonders what other “wonderful” qualities she has.)
Some columnists specialize in a practical topic: “Miss Manners” will tell you all about etiquette, how to decline an invitation graciously, how to seat people at dinner and who to serve first. And of course what to wear for different occasions.
The New York Times Magazine has a section called “Sunday Styles” in which readers ponder awkward social situations: Who should pay at restaurants, what to do with unwanted gifts, how to respond to questions you do not like. Sometimes the questions veer toward the ethical: “Should I tell my best friend that his girl friend is cheating on him?” “Can I cut off a relative who has hateful views?” “If I have been overpaid, should I keep the money?” Answers to such questions are often to go with flow, not to obsess, giving the questioner permission to follow their own inclination.
The best advice givers are the ones who identify the problem, get to the crux of the matter and propose a common sense solution of the kind that makes you say “Why didn’t I think of that?”
You might say that Benjamin Franklin was a sort of “Dear Abby.”
Poor Richard’s Almanack provided wit and wisdom, aphorisms and
proverbs as a form of advice albeit unsolicited. Mark Twain also wrote this “Advice to Youth: Obey your parents when they are present because they think they know better. Respect your superiors if you have any. Do not lie until you are a perfect liar.”
When someone starts a sentence with:”If you ask me,” I have an irresistible urge to respond: So, who asked you?