The Dangers of Giving Advice

I made the mistake recently of giving someone advice, specifically unsolicited advice. It was a rookie move, and one I used to make a lot. I’ve avoided it for a long time, and for the very reason that seems to have befallen me now: I think it may have cost me a friend. To those of you who believe that giving advice, even well-intentioned advice, is a good thing or a noble act, I would like to take this opportunity to caution you against it and explain why exactly it’s a very, very bad idea.

First, chances are that the person you are speaking with is not looking for advice. They want to vent. This is a perfectly normal human need, and one that friends are supposed to fill. The desire to make things better is a strong one for a lot of us, maybe even most of us, but it is an egotistical, maybe even arrogant one. Consider: you are asserting that, given your limited knowledge of the situation, you can offer a solution that will make things better that they have not tried, that they can and will implement, and that won’t cost more than they are willing to invest. Looking at it that way, even if they are asking for advice, are you really qualified to give it?

Second, if they aren’t asking for advice and you try to offer it anyway, you’ve just communicated (either directly or indirectly) that you are not really interested in them, you are interested in yourself. I know that sounds backwards, but it goes back to what I said above. You’re more focused on how you would handle the situation they are in, not in how the situation is affecting them. Your focus is on satisfying your emotional needs in this situation, not theirs. Not the best message to send when someone has made themselves vulnerable to you.

Third, and this is the big one, there’s no win here for either of you. Let me lay some basic game theory on you. I see eight possible outcomes in this situation:

  1. They take your advice, things work out, and they give you no credit. You resent them for not acknowledging your part.
  2. They take your advice, things work out, and they give you all the credit. Now they start to rely on you to fix their problems in the future.
  3. They take your advice, things don’t work out, and they give you the blame. Suddenly it’s your fault.
  4. They take your advice, things don’t work out, but they don’t blame you. You still feel like an ass.
  5. They don’t take your advice, things work out. You feel like an idiot for giving bad advice, but no harm done.
  6. They don’t take your advice, things don’t work out, and they wish they had taken your advice. See #2.
  7. They don’t take your advice, things don’t work out, and they somehow blame you. Don’t ask me how this works, but I’ve seen it happen. You’re still at fault.
  8. They don’t take your advice, things work out. You have enough self-confidence to shrug it off and say “looks like I was wrong.” No harm, no foul.

Maybe I’m overlooking some possibilities, but the way I see it there’s a 1-in-8 chance of a desirable outcome, and that one outcome can be more easily achieved by not giving advice in the first place. All of the undesirable outcomes can be avoided by… why look at that: not giving advice in the first place.

This is compounded by the fact that most advice comes in the form of blatantly banal and pointless platitudes that are only useful to the people who don’t need them. Things like “be yourself”, “fight for what you believe in”, or “never be afraid to speak your mind”. Here’s the advice that should accompany all of those that nobody ever seems to give and everyone needs to internalize: actions have consequences. Feel free to “be yourself”, but if that means having multiple body piercings, visible tattoos, and a blue mohawk, you need to know that will limit your job opportunities. You can “fight for what you believe in”, but be aware that reasonable people can disagree vociferously about issues they feel passionately about, and that doesn’t make them evil or wrong; it simply means they disagree, and a refusal to compromise will get you nowhere. You can “speak your mind” as much as you want, but that doesn’t mean people will like what you have to say, nor does it mean you won’t be held accountable for having said it.

Which brings me back to where I started. I was myself; I spoke my mind; I gave advice; and those actions have had very real consequences. Once upon a time that friend read this column, and maybe still does. If so, I hope there’s still room for forgiveness. If not, I’ll live with the consequences. Because that’s who I am, and I’m not afraid to be myself.

Why Can’t Johnny Read a Job Listing?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in hiring lately, and I feel it is my job, nay, my calling to bring it to the attention of you, my faithful readers. I believe that this is a challenge that we need to address as a nation, else we will never be able to rise out of the economic mire we find ourselves in. That challenge is the apparent inability of our working age youth to actually read a job listing.

What leads me to this conclusion is the never-ending wave of applicants I have been getting lately who are under the impression that they can (a) work remotely or (b) work in a full-time position while attending school full-time. While I admit the latter has been done before and will be done again, the fact is that none of the people who I have interviewed thus far have been looking to attend classes at night, on the weekend, or in any other capacity than the way they always have, during the day and on their campus. Let me note, for the record, that the job listings in question have two commonalities: they are for PAID internships, and they explicitly state that they require the candidate to be present during normal business hours. (Yes, we do list the address of our business on our website. In several places. On every page, in fact.)

So can someone please explain to me why it is that almost every applicant makes a point of the fact that they want to work remotely, and almost every one of them seems to want to work in this role while attending school full-time on the same schedule they always have? I understand the world is moving toward “telecommuting”; point of fact, it has been doing so since I first started college… twenty years ago (I just recently had my high school reunion). There are some things that have not yet changed, are not likely to ever change, and if they do change that change is not going to start with an intern, especially if I’m paying them. If you happen to know someone, or even ARE someone looking for an internship or other entry-level position, please share the following tips about why telecommuting isn’t in the cards in the near future.

  • Sometimes things come up that I need you physically present for. Even in jobs that deal with “teh interwebs” there are things like meetings, strategy sessions, or even just the occasional random task that I will need you to be present for. Yes, I have heard of Skype. I’ve even used it a few times. Perhaps you’ve heard of “limited bandwidth”. We pay for what we have, and I don’t want to spend it on you.
  • Showing up every day proves I can trust you. Right now I have no reason to, because I don’t know you, and I’m taking a risk on you. This is the case with any new hire, from the CEO on down. The difference between the CEO and you is somewhere in the vicinity of twenty years of work experience and a few pages of references. And she shows up every day, usually before you do.
  • In the same vein, when you show up, I get a sense of your behavior and demeanor. I am entrusting you with tasks that I expect you to handle in a professional manner. In order to build confidence in your ability to do so, your professional dress and behavior go a long way toward that. Showing up on time and staying all day also help. When you work remotely, it is a sign of trust; for all I know you’re sitting around in your bathrobe playing “Angry Birds” all day.
  • Finally, and I can’t emphasize this enough, it doesn’t matter why I want you to show up. I am hiring you, not the other way around. Even if this were an unpaid internship, if you want the job, you get it on my terms. If you like what you are getting out of it, you take it; if not, you don’t. That logic is the same whether you are a cashier at a grocery store or the president of a Fortune 500 company. And quite frankly, in this economy I really don’t see someone going out for an internship being in a position to negotiate, especially not on this essential point.

Maybe I’m being too unforgiving, maybe I’m expecting too much. Certainly if I can’t find someone to take the job as offered I’ll have to re-evaluate my expectations and decide if I need to change the offer, or if I even need an intern that badly. But that’s for me to decide, not you. Until I do, you’re not doing yourself any favors asking for a job I’m not offering; you’re just getting yourself a one-way ticket to Trashcan Town, population: your resume.

Midlife (Health) Crisis

As I become a grouchy middle age man, I’m slowly coming to realize I’m not quite the svelte, dynamic Adonis I once was. In particular I’m noticing that this year my waist measurement and my age will match for the first time in a decade, and that’s not the thrill that it once was. I also notice I get winded walking up a single flight of stairs, and I have trouble doing the sorts of things I used to enjoy, like yelling at kids to get off my lawn (what can I say; I was born a cranky old man). Looking back on the past twenty years, I think about how I got from there to here, and I have some advice to offer to those of you who may still be on the right side of thirty, or even some thoughts of what to do if, like me, you’re staring down the barrel of your high school reunion and a suit that doesn’t quite fit the way you hoped it would.

First, find some sort of physical activity you actually enjoy. I’m not talking about exercise here, I’m talking about fun. I differentiate between these two because, like almost everything else that was inflicted on most of us in school when we were young, we’ve come to associate the word “exercise” with awful things that we do because we have to and not because we want to. It was different when you were a little kid, running around for the joy of it, riding your bike just to see where you could go, and playing pick-up sports because you wanted to. Find something, anything like that and go with it. Don’t “get in a routine”, don’t time yourself, just get used to being active and enjoying being active.

Next, try one new food every month. You’d be amazed how easy this is to do, and you’ll also be amazed at how many of them you’re going to hate. Yeah, you read that right. I’m not going to sell you on how many wonderful foods there are out there, because the truth is most food tastes terrible to me, and you’re probably going to feel the same way. But I have no idea what foods you’re going to hate, and neither do you, and there’s something else: you have no idea what foods you’re going to love. What’s even better, chances are at least some of those foods are a lot healthier than what you’re eating now. My favorite new discovery was wheat bread. Tasted just fine and it was better for me. Believe it or not, it came as a big shock to me. You could have an “ah-hah” moment like that waiting for you.

Learn how to cook if you don’t already know. This has more benefits than I can easily list, but here’s a few: it’s cheaper than eating out, it’s generally healthier than eating out, it gets made the way you want it, and it can often be done faster (when you take into account travel time, wait time, etc.) Oh, and there’s just one more thing: if you really want to impress someone on a date, cook them a meal. Guys or girls, either way a well-cooked meal is a total turn on. Even a sincere attempt (as long as it’s edible) will score you points.

Pick one bad habit a year to work on. I’m not saying you have to get rid of it completely, but at least work on it. You’ll feel better about yourself as a person and you might even look better too. Don’t fault yourself for not being successful in completely eliminating that habit, and don’t feel like you have to work on the same one each time.

Don’t pick up smoking, and if you have, try to quit. I have nothing but sympathy for my smokers out there. I’ve quit (seriously) at least three times now. My record is one year. It’s a nasty, expensive habit, and one of the toughest to break I’ve ever had. Caffeine is the only one I’ve had more trouble with.

I will make one plea on behalf of all my smokers out there: if you are one of those anti-smoking crusaders who go around hassling them to quit, please stop. It’s just annoying. Especially when you pull out those little nuggets of wisdom about how smoking is bad for our health. Really?!? Are you sure? Wow. I wish someone had mentioned that to me in the eighteen years BEFORE I STARTED SMOKING. Or in the twenty years since. Oh wait, they have. At least once a week. Didn’t do a damn bit of good.

What you are doing is reminiscent of the old adage about trying to teach a pig to whistle: you’re just wasting your time and making the pig want to shove a carton of cigarettes down your throat. Or something like that. The reality is smokers will quit when they quit, and all you can do is give them the support they ask for when they ask for it. By the way, constantly bringing it up with “So are you still not smoking?” Counterproductive. This is as helpful as asking a recovering alcoholic “So, still not drinking?” You are simply reminding them of what they are missing. “How are you?” works fine.

Speaking of drinking, I suggest moderation. I’ve done the whole binge drinking thing, and to be honest I still don’t see what’s fun about it. It basically seems to me to be an excuse to do stupid shit and get others to also do stupid shit, in the hopes that someone will get injured, arrested, or sing karaoke. Maybe all three. If you want to go out and do stuff, do stuff. I’ve done all kinds of things that I dare not write about on the off chance that the statute of limitations hasn’t run out/my mother will read this, and I don’t have the excuse of having been drunk at the time. I cherish those memories, and I was sober enough at the time to have them.

So there you have it: my basic guide to life. No guarantees, no promises, but hopefully something of value.

Dating Advice From Historical Figures

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Karl Marx would be happy to know this picture is in the public domain, giving according to its abilities, taking according to its needs.

Dear Karl Marx,

I have a question about blind dates. I haven’t been on the dating scene in a long time, and I’m not sure how to handle things. I’ve heard that the guy is supposed to pay for dinner, but I’m still struggling to get out from under some pretty horrendous student loans, and I can’t afford to be taking out a lot of girls I don’t even know, especially if things end up going nowhere. On the other hand, I don’t want to look cheap. What’s a guy to do?


Struggling in the New Economy

Dear Laborer,

It is truly disheartening to hear that even in this day and age the forms of capital are being used as a symbol of control in relationships rather than existing as a means to advance a fellowship of well-being and understanding. Ah, well; such is the way of the world until society is changed. In the meantime, I would advise you to reach out to those of your contemporaries who are of a similar understanding, building those relationships that you can gradually and with time, rather than with displays of bourgeois largesse. Perhaps meet her for a cup of coffee and discuss common interests so you can get to know her as a person; if she truly is a part of the struggle of the proletariat, she won’t mind going dutch.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

We hold this truth to be self-evident: that this picture is in the public domain.

Dear Thomas Jefferson,

I’ve got a serious problem and I’ pretty sure only you can help. I was at a party a few weeks ago, I got kind of drunk, and I ended up hooking up with this girl. Thing is, she wasn’t my girlfriend. I feel awful about it, but I don’t know what to do. I haven’t told my girlfriend about it, and I’m wondering if I should. I really love her, and I think she’d forgive me, but would it be right?


Too Much Southern Comfort

Dear Southern Man,

When you choose to overindulge in spirits, there is a race to determine whether you run out of wisdom or honor first; the only certainty, as you have found, is that you will lose. In this instance, your impulse to unburden your conscience to your long-suffering significant other is not one born out of compassion, but rather one of guilt and further self-indulgence. The only course of action open to you at this point is to bear the knowledge of your misdeeds alone; keep your own counsel on this matter of impropriety, and let history be your judge.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but this photo is always in the public domain.

Dear Sigmund Freud,

I’ve been with this girl for a while now, and things are getting pretty serious. I’m starting to think she might be The One. But how do you tell? I mean, I’m talking about making a commitment for the rest of my life. How can you be sure about something like that?


Ready to Make the Leap

Dear Superego,

It is understandable that you are hesitant about such a major life change, and decisions of such gravity bring a great deal of internal strife to everyone. Before settling on a course of action, explore your motivations; consider what might be driving you to take your relationship to this new and deeper level. Is it this girl in particular that makes you feel ready for a lifelong commitment, or are you simply responding to a suppressed need yet unfulfilled? While you’re at it, take a good look at her mother, because that’s what you’ll be married to in twenty years.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Public domain.

Dear Abraham Lincoln,

I’ve been married for a few months now, and I’m worried our life has gotten to be kind of routine. I want to mix things up a little bit, try to get “out of the rut”, but I’m not sure how. Do you have any suggestions of some fun, adventurous things we can do together?


Looking for Adventure

Dear Citizen of the Republic,

While I certainly respect and admire your desire to preserve the union you have with your wife, I wonder if you have given full thought to the many options available to you. While the drive for glory may seem attractive now, it soon pales before the simpler pleasures of hearth and home. May I suggest instead a special night in? Cook your new wife dinner; make some light conversation; perhaps a game of charades. Going out on the town is overrated.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Public domain.

Dear Mr. Napolean,

I had this guy I really liked and I thought he liked me to and I had a friend who was supposed to ask him if he liked me so I could find out if he liked me like I liked him but instead she asked him if he liked her and now they’re going together and I’m sad. Even worse all my other freinds arent talking to me because I said she was a poopyhead. What should I do?

Your firend,


Dear Mademoiselle Jennifer,

I also understand the pain of betrayal; to feel as if you are the emperor of the world one moment and a mere exile from all that you know the next. But fear not! With sufficient effort and planning, you can stage a coup d’etat against those who rule your current circumstances, and once again take your rightful place in your social circle. Make use of what you know about those who stand against you, and do not hesitate to spread their most shameful secrets to the world. Press your advantage ruthlessly, and crush them utterly. Do not forget that this is war; you do this not out of revenge, but to teach a lesson to others who might be tempted to stand against you, and to prevent further battle in the days to come.



A true gentleman would know this is in the public domain.

Dear Confucius,

There’s a girl I go to college with that I’d really like to get to know better. We take a few classes together, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask her out yet. I’m not sure if she’d be interested in me, and I’d be devastated if she turned me down. Should I go for it, or should I just try to stay friends?


Pining Away

Dear Junzi,

It is well that you are in college, for the pursuit of knowledge is in itself a part of the path of virtue. It is however only one part; self-knowledge, the cultivation of virtue, and filial duty also play their roles. If you are a true gentleman, what woman would refuse you? You say you have classes in common; surely that is something you can use as a place to start a meaningful interaction. Failing that, try taking her father out for a round of golf.

How To Get Ahead In Business If Your Boss Is Anything Like Me

Somehow, despite all my worst efforts, I’ve ended up supervising quite a few people over the past several years, as well as observing more than a few more come through this and other companies I’ve worked at. Between this and my own personal experiences (read: “the horrible mistakes I made and all the advice I never listened to just like you will not listen to me”) I’ve come to realize there are certain common traits that separate the people who will continue to advance and thrive from the people who will simply drift from one meaningless job to the next, only to inevitably end up complaining that the world isn’t fair. In order to empower you and prevent you, dear readers, from becoming one of those benighted souls, I offer these insights I have gleaned from my years on both sides of the managerial fence.

I Know It’s Boring, Just Do It Already. Here’s a little wake up call for you, sunshine: if your job weren’t 90% suck, I wouldn’t have to pay you to do it, you would do it for free. If it were 90% fun, YOU would be paying ME. So please, stop telling me how much the work I’ve given you sucks/is boring/is beneath you/is a waste of your time/skills/degree/god given talent/I honestly don’t give a rat’s ass. The simple fact is, the people who do what I ask them to do, do it well, and don’t complain are the ones I will come to when I need something else done, including the fun projects, and the complainers are the first ones to get cut when the budget axe comes down.

My Job Is Boring, Too. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Yeah, cupcake, here’s the reality of the workplace: the reason I gave you all that boring stuff to do is so I could have time and mental capacity to focus on my own load of boring stuff. See, I have more experience, more institutional knowledge, more work relationships, and more understanding of how to get things done. That means that for every boring project you’re working on, I have three, only I don’t get to see them through to completion. Instead, I have to nurse them along just far enough that I can hand them off to someone else that I can only hope will bring them through to completion in a manner I find satisfactory, because if they don’t then I get yelled at for their failure. That’s called responsibility, and it’s what I really get paid for.

Take Responsibility. The people who get promoted are the people who get things done. If you can’t, come to me before the deadline and before you run out of money so we can come up with a solution. This makes you look like a problem solver. Why you didn’t get the project done on time, on budget, after the fact, is of no interest to me.

Do It Right The First Time. I shouldn’t have to say this, but somehow I do. I can’t count the number of people I have had to train in the simple fact that details matter. It’s not just about the task at hand, this goes to my overall perception of you. It’s like this: when I have a new project of critical importance, who do you think I’m going to give it to: the guy who treated his last project with a shrug and a “whatever” attitude, or the one who treated it like his job depended on it? Even if the project at hand is simple data entry, the next one might not be, and how you do on this one will shape my perception of how you will do every other task I give you.

This Isn’t Social Hour. Maybe you heard that “networking” was the way to get ahead. Maybe you never grew out of chatting with your friends in high school. Maybe you’re just naturally gregarious. Whatever it is, if every time I see you I see you talking to someone instead of getting something done, that’s the image I have of you. That’s not to say you can’t be sociable at work, but it is to say that you need to understand why you’re there, and socializing isn’t the number one reason. It’s not even in the top five.

Innovate, Don’t Inundate. Truth is I’m always open to a good idea. I welcome them. The problem is that everyone, and I mean everyone I’ve seen come into a new company throws out a new idea within a week of starting there. I’ve done it myself. I guess the urge to impress your new boss is just too strong, or maybe we all just feel like “Well, they hired me for a reason.” The problem is this is the height of hubris. This presumes you understand the company and position you are in so well within a week that your idea will have merit and strength sufficient to be worthy of consideration and implementation. Now take this hubris and multiply it by the number of ideas you’ve thrown out in the amount of time you’ve been at your current job, and divide it by the number of months you’ve been there. For most people who have been at a job for less than a year, this ratio will be roughly “holy/shit!” Even if there’s a good idea in there somewhere, I’m not going to notice it because I’m too busy ignoring everything you say. Wait for the right idea to come along, put it out there, and let others decide its relative merit.

Be Patient, And Have Realistic Expectations. There’s a great line in Fight Club that I think we can all learn from: “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t.” I take a different lesson from this than the movie intended, but I do take a lesson away from it, and I hope you will to: you can have the corner office, you can have the six figure salary, you can have the respect of your peers and the adulation of the masses… but you won’t have it today. Tomorrow’s not looking good either. You’re gonna have to work your way up to them, slowly, bit by bit, and even once you get there, if you get there, there’s no guarantees there will be anything more beyond it – or that it’s even what you wanted in the first place. Life’s like that. So think about it, now and along the way. Be sure you know what your options are, and know what you’re giving up, because there are damn few second chances, and nobody gets a third.

Finding Strength through Adversity

“Life’s not fair.” These are the words of wisdom my mother greeted me with every time I was a child and I had a complaint about some new injustice that had been visited upon me. (To be fair, I preferred this to her more often used “go play in traffic” or “take a long walk off a short pier”, but I digress.) I have since come to understand that in her own Long Island way she was trying to toughen me up and prepare me for a cruel and uncaring world. (I think. I’m still not sure about the traffic thing.)

Since then I have had good days and bad days, and then I have had “Oh dear GOD seriously WTF?!?” days. These latter have reminded me more than once of mom’s admonition when I was a child, and after I got done playing in traffic, I would then remember that she also had other important life lessons to share and try to find strength through the adversity. There are certain key things I have since found that, by keeping them in mind, have helped me to get through even the most trying of days.

Some days are just going to suck. Accept it now. This may not seem comforting, but the truth is it helps. Once you accept that there is nothing you can do about it, that the cards are all stacked against you and fighting against it is simply a waste of time and energy, it becomes a lot easier to just go with the flow. That’s not to say you should take individual events lying down; rather just that you need to accept that today is going to be “one of those days”, and not try to somehow make it a good one.

It’s not personal. Even when it feels like the entire universe has singled you out to be picked on today, chances are that’s not the case (and if it is, I strongly suggest you give Ashton Kutcher a good shot in the mouth when he jumps out to tell you “you’ve been Punk’d!” So has your career, Ashton.) Most of the people around you who are getting on your nerves are just trying to get through their own mediocre-to-awful day, and I promise that they are not trying to make your day worse, so taking it out on them will not help… no matter how good you think it might feel.

Taking it out on someone else will not make you feel better. Since you have the discriminating taste and class to read this, I am assuming you’re not a raging asshole, so I feel safe in making this prediction. In a heated moment you might think you’ll get some satisfaction in making someone else pay for adding to your already steaming pile of a day, but in all likelihood you’re just going to walk away feeling a little worse for having gone off for no good reason. You’re also going to leave them with a bad impression of you, which is likely to make tomorrow (or a future day) worse, if they don’t just decide to serve their revenge piping hot.

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. I don’t mean to endorse over-indulgence here (I prefer to endorse that all on its own), but when things are already in the toilet, why put yourself through the added misery of denial? Treats are just that, and sometimes you need one. Have some ice cream. Pour a glass of wine. Go see a movie. When the world refuses to cut you a break, cut yourself a slice of pie.

That’s what friends are for. Real friends aren’t the people you go drinking with when you are in a good mood. They are the people you call when you need to complain about your bad mood. Great friends are the ones who take you out drinking so you can complain about your bad mood and then pick up the check.

Every day ends. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how long it feels, the one redeeming virtue of every bad day is that it only last 24 hours. Even if the bad carries over into the next day, there’s always the chance that this new day will only be mediocre rather than a true crapfest. And even if things don’t improve, the new day is still only 24 hours long.

Wait for “the cherry”. You’ll know the cherry when it happens: that last, little thing that isn’t nearly so bad as the rest, more of a finisher, the topping that just says, “And now your shit sundae is complete.” Once you have experienced this transcendent moment, you can at least start to look forward to the inevitable dénouement to the dramarama your day has been thus far.

There’s always tomorrow. Yes, it’s cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. This one exists to remind us that so long as we live, there is a chance of some good balancing out the bad, and even if life isn’t fair, that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

Politeness for Impoliteness’ Sake

Among some of my family and friends I have a slight reputation as a know-it-all. Among the rest I have a huge reputation as an arrogant ass who thinks he has the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. (It’s 42. I read Douglas Adams.) I’d like to think this is an unfair characterization born out of jealousy of my awesome awesomeness. I’d also like to think I have a face like Matthew McConaughey, a body like Brad Pitt, and the intellectual acumen of Stephen Hawking. So I’ll let you be the judge of which of us is right.

The point, however, is that regardless of my reputation in this regard, my family and friends are generally too polite to make an issue of it, even when I start to go off an one of my infrequent rants. I am of course using the colloquial definition of “infrequent”, that being “the length of time that casts the speaker in the best light, usually a modest one.” I particularly appreciate this as I have reached a much more mellow middle age (no, I am not using a colloquial definition of mellow, I really used to be worse) and have come to appreciate the value of politeness.

In my brash youth, I didn’t really see the value of politeness for its own sake. It always seemed to me to be more a matter of hypocrisy; after all, when you are being nice to someone you would rather spit in their eye, how is that NOT hypocritical? It was only after I had spent some serious time in the corporate world (and if you don’t think that’s a culture all its own, you’ve never lived in it) that I started to understand the value of politeness. I found there that politeness was a tool, nothing more and nothing less, and like any tool the value of it consists entirely in what you make with it.

Politeness doesn’t exist, as I thought it did when I was younger, for its own sake. Nor does it merely separate us from the animals, as I have heard some people assert. Rather, I have found that politeness is the oil that keeps society as frictionless as possible. It is the “civil” in “civil society.” Consider: polite conversation doesn’t allow for religion or politics as topics. I look around these days and realize that’s not a coincidence. Not to put too fine a point on it, politeness is what makes it possible for us to coexist with the people we would rather not have to coexist with. Whether it’s in the workplace or the marketplace, at school or at church, there’s always someone you just can’t stand, chances are they return the favor, and politeness is the only thing standing between the two of you and a date with destiny.

That’s not to say we always have to be polite. Sometimes it’s time to get impolite. After all, I would hardly refer to a good protest march as “polite.” Your typical rock concert hardly measures up to the realm of “polite”. And God knows any conversation with my close friends will never be within seven dirty words of being “polite.” But those are the stand out moments, the exceptions, not the rules, and should be cherished more for it, not less. But when we start turning every day into a protest, when every night is a concert, and every conversation would make George Carlin blush (bless his smutty departed self), we lose something priceless. It’s not just a matter of losing the “specialness” or those moments. We’re losing our dignity as a society.

Our current culture of brashness that seems to reward the braggart, the loudmouth, the shock jock and the bully-pulpit preacher both, the people who drag their politics and opinions out at every turn instead of confining them to opinion columns and blogs where they belong; it needs to stop. We need to – not step up, but step back. Not speak up, but quiet down. Take our fingers off the hyperbolic trigger and for once, don’t let our voices be heard. Just let it go. Stop feeding the trolls.

Even me.