You see a rattlesnake slithering toward a stranger. You say, “Watch out” and the person responds, “I didn’t ask for your advice.” Absurd.
You see an obese stranger inhaling a triple bacon cheeseburger. You say, “You don’t need that.” The person responds, “Mind your own business.” Understandable.
Those are polar opposite examples of unsolicited advice: one completely justifiable, the other clearly not. Here’s an example in the murky middle that actually occurred today. I had noticed that John Perry, co-host of the radio program that precedes mine, Philosophy Talk, had been slipping in a number of comments on aging. I enjoyed his previous book, The Art of Procrastination: A Guide to Effective Dawdling, Lollygagging, and Postponing. So as he was leaving the studio as I was entering, I said, “Hey John, how about writing a book on aging using that same playful tone you used in your book on procrastination?” He responded with what is probably his polite Midwestern way of saying no: “A book on aging, huh?” and he walked on. Even though he probably was rejecting the idea, there’s some chance I planted a seed, which just might benefit him and readers. Worst case, he mildly resented the unsolicited advice. I feel the risk-reward ratio was good.
In said murky middle ground, how do you decide whether to offer unasked-for advice? You might consider these factors:
Of course, when offering unasked-for advice, it’s usually wise to soften it—saying you’re unsure whether you’re right, that, of course, the recipient decides whether to accept it, and phrasing it as a question. For example, “Of course, you may be considering other factors I’m not aware of but, because you’re so social, are you sure that pursuing an accounting degree is the wisest path?”
Should we give more unsolicited advice?
Conventional wisdom is that we shouldn't give unsolicited advice. But it would seem that humankind would, net, benefit more if we gave and were more open to receiving it. As long as the intent is benevolent, unsolicited input is quite a kind act: the person is offering help even though that risks getting attacked. I’ll try to remember that when you criticize this article.
Wikipedia’s profile of Marty Nemko tells you more than necessary.