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Advice Backfire
Lt. Hagerman: (She is grieving. Just don't...contradict anything she says.)
Grieving mother: All my hopes and dreams were bundled in this boy. I can't help but feel that all of this is somehow my fault!
Gunter: (claps her hands) It is. You are completely to blame.

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 Ditz or Cloudcuckoolander. 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.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • A type 1 from Eyeshield 21. Jo Tetsuma is so literal that he takes everything WAY OVERBOARD. When told to 'keep hydrated' 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 after getting a stomach cramp.
  • In My Wife is a High School Girl a young store clerk is immediately smitten by the eponymous girl Asami, later he tells Kyosuke (oblivious that he is Asami's husband) that he has a crush on one girl, Kyosuke ignorant of the fact that he is talking about his wife advices to "never give up on her, no matter how many times you are rejected, fight for her". You can guess how that turns out.
  • This happens in ep. 32 of Fullmetal Alchemist (anime). A group of thugs surrounds Al and informs him that he's being kidnapped. Al says he was taught not to go anywhere with strangers. One of the guys advises him not to take orders from adults, saying something along the lines of "You're 14 years old, act like a man and make your own choices!" Al takes his advice and chooses to fight rather than go with strangers.

Literature
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring.
    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.
    • As Frodo puts it, "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."
  • 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.
  • A story from an Austrian children's book: The narrator, a student from high school, wants to help a classmate in geography when the latter is asked about the economy of South Africa. Since South Africa is famous for having many mines, the narrator thinks he can help him by showing him the mine of a pencil. The classmate understands this as "They produce a lot of pencils in South Africa!" and gets an F, of course.

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.
  • Inverted 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 ends up making out with Penny anyhow. Penny called out Leonard's name rather than Stuart's, though, and since the advice was exactly what Leonard had done himself, the implication is that Penny was simply trying to replace Leonard with someone very similar.
  • On 30 Rock, Liz Lemon tried to advise Jenna on aging gracefully with this exchange:
    "You can try to fight getting older. You can be like Madonna and cling to youth with your Gollum arms. Or you can be like Meryl Streep and embrace your age with elegance."
    "So you're saying it's a choice? Between the dignity of middle age and the illusion of youth."
    "Two paths: Meryl Streep...or Madonna."
    "Very well. I will emulate my acting inspiration. A woman of profound poise, whose career is what we all aspire to."
    "Okay, this build-up is making me nervous."
    "A woman whose feminine grace and normal outfits are an inspiration."
    "Just say who it is, and I'll feel better."
    "Someone whose very name stands for enduring beauty and the wonder of womanhood!"
    "Please don't say.."
    "Madonna!"
  • In one episode of The Drew Carey Show, set after the Browns returned to Cleveland, Drew and his three friends are behind a guy in line for tickets. The guy gets one ticket, but Drew stops him and tells him the return of the football team is a special time and should be shared with friends. He ends up getting five tickets, which happened to be the last five.
  • From an episode of Friends: Joey is teaching an acting class. One of his students gets a part as a boxer on a soap - a part Joey wanted. He goes to Joey for advice - Joey tries to sabotage him by telling him to play the boxer gay. It totally works and the student gets offered the part.
  • One episode of Brimstone features one of the 113 trying to get a handle on her hellspawned superpower (burning people with her mind) by going to therapy. When the therapist advises her to confront her anger issues head-on, she interprets this as license to embrace her evil side, and promptly goes on a rampage.
  • An episode of Weird Science has Lisa fall in love with Gary, causing her to turn into a Stalker with a Crush. Gary tells her "If you love somebody, set them free", and she decides the best way to do this is by deleting herself. Wyatt quickly steps in and says Gary is an idiot who doesn't know anything and was just spouting off old rock lyrics.
  • In Kamen Rider Wizard, Rinko comes across The Dragon; and they actually wind up chatting. The Dragon complains about having to work for the Big Bad, and Rinko - having just found evidence that he Used to Be a Sweet Kid - encourages him to just Be Yourself and break from the Big Bad's control. The problem is that he's really not the same person anymore, but a monster using the "Sweet Kid's" face; where Rinko interpreted the Big Bad's control as forcing him to be evil, it was really forcing him to hold back. The only upshot to him taking Rinko's advice is that it helped push the hero to put the threat down for good.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000's version of the LOTR quote is "Ask not the Eldar a question, for they will give you three answers, all of which are true and terrifying to know."

Video Games
  • In Jet Set Radio, Professor K receives a letter asking for advice on how to deal with a roach problem. As a pirate radio DJ, this is decidedly not his field, so he plays it off and tells the guy to burn his house down. Guess who didn't realize it was a joke.
  • Zig-zagged in Five Nights at Freddy's with one of Phone Guy's bits of advice: He suggests playing dead if you're caught since the animatronics might assume you're an empty suit and leave you alone, but immediately takes it back realizing it could backfire badly with them instead trying to stuff an endoskeleton into you. It's zig-zagged when it turns out playing dead can work: when you're out of power playing dead (not moving the mouse at all) you'll get a solid minute of Freddy's song before he attacks. Since an hour's only a minute and a half, playing dead can buy you enough time to finish the night if you run out of power after 5.

Web Comics

Web Original
  • These two videos from Robert Half staffing agency.

Sports
  • This story sounds apocryphal, but you be the judge: Golfer Sam Snead was playing a practice round with players much younger than himself when they faced a second shot with options. Option one was to go over the trees and make the third shot much shorter, and option two was to follow the fairway with a longer third shot. The young guys asked Snead which option to choose. Snead told them that he used to shoot over the trees. Predictably, none of the young guys could do it, and Snead chose that moment to add something to his previous advice: "Of course, in my day, those trees were thirty feet shorter."

Western Animation
  • Moral Orel, Once per Episode (at least). One episode actually revolved around people trying to avoid giving him advice. It still didn't turn out well.
    Orel: Reverend, I just feel terrible about making that awful song so popular. What can I do to make it up to God?
    Reverend Putty: N-nothing! God knows you've done enough. Just don't do anything, and sit still, will you?
    Orel: Really still?
    Putty: No, not really still! T-that would be too still. No, you know — be normal.
    Orel: Huh, normal.
    Putty: Orel, wipe that look off your face! You don't need to do anything special to be normal.
    Orel: Oh, I get it! I can just be myself!
    Putty: Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no! Don't do that, either! Don't be normal. Sorry, I used the wrong words. Come on, Putty, grab a hold of yourself. Okay, um, can't you just forget about all this?
    Orel: Well, I guess I can forget about it if I really try!
    Putty: Don't try! Please, god, don't try doing anything!
    Orel: Oh, Reverend, I'm getting confused!
    Putty: Yeah, me too, buddy.
    Moral Orel ("Innocence")
  • On one episode of the Aladdin TV series, Aladdin and Jasmine travel to Odiferous to attend Prince Uncouthma's wedding. Unfortunately, the bride falls in love with Aladdin, and Uncouthma is very depressed about this. Jasmine advises him to "Fight to win her back!" Uncouthma, being a Proud Warrior Race Guy and all, ended up taking this advice...by having a duel to the death with Aladdin.
  • An episode of King of the Hill has a double-backfire version. Hank and his friends sneak into the box seats at a Texas-Nebraska football game, only to discover it belongs to a famous Nebraska player. Late in the game the Nebraska coach calls the box to ask for advice and Hank, pretending to be the player, gives him a terrible suggestion...only for it to work perfectly, costing Texas the game.
  • American Dad! used this in a parody of Dead Poets Society, where Roger was posing as a college professor. He advised his students to seize the day and not let anything get in the way of living life to its fullest. Unfortunately, one of his students decides that that means it's okay to kill his father, which Roger and Hayley learn after he invites them over to discuss philosophy.
  • Happens to Daria constantly, with the added bonus that most of the time she's not even trying to give advice, people just misinterpret random things she says and run with it.
  • In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Song of the Petalars", young Prince Lion-O mistakenly views his friend Emrick's well-meant advice that It's the Journey That Counts through his Hot-Blooded Proud Warrior Race perspective, assuming that he and his ThunderCats should live Like You Were Dying and rush to engage an army of Lizard Folk pursuers. They end up needing rescue by a Deus ex Machina.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Pema accidentally got the Love Triangle really going this way, for the double reasons of not having all the information (Korra only said that the guy she liked was seeing someone else) and underestimating how Korra would fix it (Pema suggested confessing one's feelings, Korra just went and kissed the guy). Pema also didn't know that the guy's brother had a crush on Korra. Korra misunderstanding her advice led to the team almost falling apart (and causing issues in the following episodes).
    • In the episode "Original Airbenders", Tenzin comes to Bumi for advice on how to whip the airbenders into shape. Unfortunately for Bumi, Tenzin takes his advice a bit too seriously.
    • Defied in "The Terror Within", when Varrik tries giving Bolin romance advice after he and Opal get closer. After what happened last time, Bolin refuses the advice.
  • Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King": Lawyer Temple Fugate is on his way to a court date which he believes will make or break his career. City councilman Hamilton Hill, with whom he shares his commute, offers some friendly advice: he says Fugate is too tightly-wound, and thinks it'll negatively impact his performance, so Hill suggests he take his regular coffee break at 3:15 rather than 3 on the dot. Unfortunately, that's the point where Fugate turns into a Cosmic Plaything, which really does destroy his career and becomes the Start of Darkness of his villainous identity, the Clock King, as part of his desire for revenge against Hill.


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