Advice Backfire


(permanent link) added: 2010-01-16 20:23:40 sponsor: Ezekiel (last reply: 2010-01-16 20:23:40)

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Right, so, when I started writing this up I couldn't find anything similar, then halfway through I noticed major similarities to A Simple Plan. I present it now just in case there really is enough difference (doubtful).
Since writing the previous disclaimer, I've noticed a few additional applications of the trope. It may be different enough after all, but I hope it's not too broad now.
I have some advice for you, so listen carefully. Never, ever give anyone advice. Doing so can only ever end badly for almost everyone involved. Instructions are just as bad. Invariably, one of the following will happen:

  • You're giving advice to the local The Ditz or Cloud Cuckoo Lander. Your advice may be perfectly sound, but they are ultimately incapable of acting on it in a logical manner. They may take a euphemism used in the explanation, or a sarcastic reply to one or more questions they raised before or after, literally; or they could take something more normal and make it something completely abstract.

  • Perhaps they are capable of understanding, but you or they have overestimated their ability. At step 3 in your seven-step plan, they'll measure something incorrectly and won't catch it until the whole thing blows up in their face. Or, alternately, you may have been giving them advice on the proper method to moving heavy equipment, not realizing that all the method in the world won't make up for their physical weakness when the equipment falls on them. Or they could just be jinxed.

  • A vital piece of information may be missing. You might have thought you heard the whole story when you hadn't and given advice based on that, which can result in flawed instructions or an unnecessarily hurtful tirade aimed at someone you assumed was a Jerk Ass. Alternately, something that went without saying for you or had been well-learned from your own experience might be conspicuously missing for them; this version in particular inspires some interesting anecdotes.

  • Perhaps the person you were giving advice to is someone who you ought not have. Maybe they're the villain and you don't know it yet. Maybe you're the villain and you don't know it yet. Maybe your ultimate goals are simply mutually exclusive. Maybe you're in direct competition, and you figure they're no threat anyway so you might as well be a Friendly Enemy. In any event, the information you give them will, invariably, result in your defeat at their hands. It doesn't matter if the advice happens to be "it's Istanbul, not Constantinople", it will get you killed. Er, if potential death was ever a factor, at least.

  • Or, maybe you're not the one originally giving the advice. Maybe you're relaying a message from another advice-giver. But, unfortunately, something has been lost in translation, or only fits in a certain context. You obviously can't clarify for the recipient, so if these differences change the message significantly, you're out of luck. On a related note, if you're sending such a message through someone else, you should take care that the deliverer is trustworthy, and preferably also that he doesn't know what the message is; if he acts on information intended for someone else entirely, that could throw things out of whack.

So don't just go telling someone whatever you think will solve their problems. It usually won't, at least not the way you want it to. Oh, and one more thing, the biggest blunder of them all. Never give someone just ha

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • A type 1 from Eyesheild21. Tetsuma Jo is so literal that he takes everything WAY OVERBOARD. When told to 'drink vigorously!' in preparation for a match, he went through twenty-something water-bottles in less than five minutes, resulting in the one time he ever deviated from his pass route--running off the field in the middle of a game to get to the bathroom before he wet himself.

Literature
Gildor: Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.
  • Happens with the Guru and Aimee Thanatogenos in Evelyn Waugh's ''The Loved One." He tells her to kill herself, and she does.
  • P. G. Wodehouse used this in any number of stories.

Live-Action TV
  • On Happy Days Richie takes over the college paper's advice column, and Postie & Ralph (who are sharing an apartment) write in for advice on how to get along. Richie jokingly suggests dividing the apartment in half and they actually do it.
  • Possible subversion in The Big Bang Theory: When his friend Stuart is about to go on a date with Penny, Leonard deliberately gives Stuart what he thinks is bad advice about what to do on the date. Stuart follows the advice and end up making out with Penny anyhow.

Western Animation
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