I have been mainlining a lot of the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast episodes lately. The show is a comedic advice show where the three McElroy brothers answer listener’s questions and random questions from the Yahoo Answers service. Their disclaimer is as such: “The McElroy brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed. Travis insists he’s a sexpert, but if there’s a degree on his wall, I haven’t seen it. Also, this show isn’t for kids, which I mention only so the babies out there will know how cool they are for listening. What’s up, you cool baby?” Which is to say they do hand out some good advice but they also do a lot of comedy riffs where they dispense purposefully terrible advice. They never make it clear which is which but common sense makes it fairly easy to figure out. Also, there is less snickering and giggling during the good advice.

The thought I had yesterday was why anyone would ever seek advice from strangers and why would strangers dispense advice? The McElroy brothers treat it as a comedy routine and are not super serious about it even if they do end up helping people. And yet there are plenty of people who try to legitimately give advice. Writers like Dear Abby and Ann Landers (both nom de plumes) write advice columns with impunity. How did they get the confidence to try and give other people advice? Then there are even trickier outlets like Loveline and Dr. Ruth who dealt heavily with sexual topics. To say nothing of Dr. Spock who tried to tell parents how to raise their babies. Some of these people have degrees which would seem to confer on them the bonafides to allow them to give advice. Others are just newspaper employees who are doing their best. What qualifies one to give advice? Common sense? Some degree of emotional empathy and/or intelligence? I am not sure.

I know that I do not really like giving advice unless it is advice on what movies or tv shows people should watch. Watching the wrong pop culture rarely irreparably damages anyone’s life. I also offer some advice on writing but that is the basic “Just Write.” that I read in many books on writing. However, when it comes to people’s lives, I hesitate to tell them what to do. I can tell people what works for me but if I was never in a certain situation, I am hard pressed to think of the right thing to say. How do I even know what the right thing to say is? I am always nervous that I will say the wrong advice and ruin the situation. For example, if I am not gay, how do I give advice on somebody coming out? I can’t. I just can’t.

I also have an interesting thing in that I am a paralegal in my day job. I have spent over a year doing formal training in the law in general and specifically Maryland law. I also research the law just about every day at work (unless it is a filing day). With all of that general legal knowledge, of course, there are people who ask me for advice usually over the phone at work. The problem is that I legally cannot give legal advice. It is literally against the law. Doing so would be unauthorized practice of law. Only a lawyer is licensed to give legal advice and doing so behind my attorney’s back could get both of us in trouble. For me, it’s a relief because I do not want that pressure. However, I also sometimes have to pass on advice from my boss to clients and I have to be very careful about how I do that. I just do not know how people do it naturally.

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