Monday, September 19, 2011

Who to listen to

Everybody has an opinion. One is bombarded with advice on how to love, how to be happy, how to find fulfillment, how to make money, where to invest, what to wear, which attitudes to imbibe ...

Which opinions should you listen to, and which ones should you regard as entertainment?

The first rule is to disregard those opinions which constitute a moral hazard. A "moral hazard" is not about morality, but about accountability. If someone is paid to offer advice, but the advice carries no guarantees, the advice is a scam.

A guru offers you life-altering advice. He is paid to act wise. But he disowns any responsibility when your life goes haywire. Buyer beware.

A chairperson from a gender studies department in a university writes a bitter book about how to act towards the opposite gender. That book costs money. And she is in a tenured position. But when you are going through a child custody battle, she has little money to offer for the child's maintenance, but instead asks you to get it from the "child's father". Whoa there!

A broker sends you investment advice, but puts in a disclaimer about absence of liability. That's a joke.

A management "leader" or "consultant" offers a seminar costing a bomb. A lot of suckers go to such events. But he is not there to recompense you if his advice backfires. He is laughing his way to the bank.

An advertiser pushes a product on you. He is paid to do so. You indirectly pay him if you buy the product. Can you take him to court for misleading you? You must be out of your mind.

A movie describes dating to you, and how to have a fun one-night-stand. And you paid to watch it. Enough said.

NGOs, which would otherwise go out of business, tell you to not get your kid vaccinated because vaccines are "harmful". Will they compensate you if your kid died of a disease?

The lesson is: take advice only from those people who, if you suffer, will suffer as well. Listen to your parents, your spouse, your closest friends, your manager and your subordinates. Read papers in scientific peer-reviewed journals as the scientific reputation of the writer is at stake. You don't have to agree with them, but their advice is valuable in that it does not carry a "moral hazard".

Any other advice, treat as entertainment. Nothing is for free. And if you are getting a message for free, look closer at who is paying the speaker and whether his reputation depends on it being falsified.

The second rule is to evaluate whether the advice has helped the adviser, or whether it is being applied in their own lives.

Gurus will tell you not to be materialistic. Are they themselves living a spartan life, as per their guidance?

Shrill spinsters will rail against patriarchy ruining the possibility of a happy marriage. Do they continue to be in a happy relationship after discovering the secret?

Politicians urge you to work for the nation. Religious leaders ask you to be deeply devotional and humble. Do they look like they are themselves altruistic or devotional or humble?

Such advice should be considered perversely educational in making you reconsider the forces which lead to a state of non-patriotism, domestic violence, materialism. Do not discard a long-standing tradition without understanding how it evolved, and what forces were historically responsible for its growth.

The third rule is to look for humility and the admission of fallibility. If the adviser gets angry when you disagree with him, or if she starts calling you names and takes criticism as a personal affront, or if there is no way the opinions can be verified or falsified, you will be wasting your time in arguing with such a person.

Truthy conclusions and firm, categorical, eternal statements sound wise, but are usually anything but.


hehe said...

What about advice from a blogger on which advices to listen to :-)

Harmanjit Singh said...

@hehe: Your question is valid only if you have already given consideration to my blog post. Hence, it is moot. :)

Anonymous said...

"Truthy conclusions and firm, categorical, eternal statements sound wise, but are usually anything but."

Now that is a truthy conclusion,firm,categorical,eternal statement and sounds wise.

It is also anything but.

Talk of shooting oneself in the foot.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous: Have you heard of statements like: "All generalizations are false, including this one."

Anonymous said...

This article is a great example of Circular logic

Anonymous said...

People may seek another person's advice when there is a conflict between that inner voice and the voice of their ego. People usually follow an advice that leads their own ego to feel good. This is where the folly could lie. Following the conscience or inner voice(heard only by the individual himself) rarely leads one off track.

Now is that a truthy conclusion ....... or what? Follow at your own risk!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

"Follow at your own risk" - another truthy ............conclusion..

Good Lord is there a way out of this circular maze?Maybe one should look for a false conclusion.....

Anonymous said...

good article. what about the anti-thesis to your points -

* it doesn't matter who said it, but what is being said is more important

* sometimes different advice is applicable for people at different levels. like if one is a master of a certain skill, say driving, he may say to a beginner "do not drive using one hand only" but still he may not follow this advice. so the student rebels saying that he doesn't apply his own advice may not be appropriate. this is a very simple example, but it is appropriate if mastery could be divided in levels and each level has its own rules.

just these are the points for consideration (and in fact these very points might render one gullible if used blindly) - but i do agree that the level of critical thinking you propose is required without which many (including me) end up wasting their precious resources.

- srini.

Anonymous said...

"The only golden rule is that there is no golden rule"..Shaw

Anonymous said...

"different strokes for different folks"

Fenil said...

This problem of moral hazard occurs when people of society lose the grip of ethical sense. For this, to great extent, corporate culture, media's brainwashing and agent working for them and their short-term grid for benefit are responsible.

Above all the major threat to system is philosophy of personal freedom. They fail to understand function and structure society. They do not follow how the society function for overall well-being. They do not have long-term point view for life.This further boost the loosing of moral sense for their action.

In conclusion, failing to understand the foundation of long-standing system leads loosing of moral and ethical value, which in turn present us with problem of so called New Age.