Saturday, November 7, 2015


   By Mary Kennedy    

Do you remember Blanche Dubois' famous line in "A Streetcar Named Desire?"  She said, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."             
Which brings me to an interesting question. Kindness is one thing but would you take advice from a stranger?  I'm guessing we all take advice from a trusted friend or family member from time to time. We assume that they know us and have our best interests at heart.  Of course, sometimes these "advice-givers" are hopelessly unqualified to advise us, but we probably assume they mean well.
Sometimes advice from a stranger can make a world of difference.
 Last winter, I was sitting in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, waiting for a flight back to Philadelphia. It was humid and my hair had turned into a complete fuzz ball. I noticed a woman sitting across from me with sleek blonde hair in a fashionable bob, not one strand out of place. She could have stepped out of a shampoo commercial. She caught me staring at her and I confessed that I wished I knew her secret. How did she get that silky smooth look in off-the-charts humidity? I needed advice--badly!
      At that very moment, her flight was called and she gathered her belongings and headed to the gate. As she passed by me, she touched a lock of my frizzy hair and softly, "I just have one word for you. Sulfates."
I thought of that famous line in The Graduate, "Plastics." Sulfates? What in the world was she talking about?
"Wait!" I pleaded as she moved past me. "Are sulfates good or bad?"
"Bad, my dear, very bad. Avoid them at all costs."
"How do I do that?" Now I had jumped out of my seat and was trailing after her like a border collie.
"It's easy. Just buy hair products without them. Throw out your shampoo and conditioner and start over with sulfate-free products."  And then she handed her ticket to gate agent and boarded the plane.
Wow!  Could it be true? Was this really the answer to my hair woes?  I did as she suggested, went home and threw out all my shampoos and conditioner.  I re-stocked my bathroom with sulfate-free products.
I wish I could say a miraculous transformation has taken place. Do I have the silky blonde tresses of the glamorous woman in the airport? Sadly, no. I'm beginning to think that in addition to going sulfate-free, she was blessed with very good hair.
But I definitely see a positive difference in my hair. Less fuzzy, more shine. (I'm not auditioning for any shampoo commercials, but I'm happy with the results).
Of course, hair is a pretty mundane issue. I've also been given tons of advice (often unsolicited) on more important issues. When people learn that I'm a mystery novelist, they often offer me advice on what I "should" be writing. Last week, a perfect stranger told me in no uncertain terms that I should be writing "graphic novels." He insisted that graphic novels were the "wave of the future" and I was wasting my time writing my Dream Club Mysteries for Penguin-Random House series.  He also insisted that "no one wants to read these days, they just want to look at pictures." (although that's a topic for another whole blog!)
How about you? Have you ever received advice from a stranger that was helpful? Have you ever gotten advice that was wildly wrong for you? What did you tell the advice-giver?  I'd love to hear your experiences!
By Mary Kennedy


Mia said...

I think it depends on the situation. Whether or not, like in your example, the advice was solicited or just offered. Then there's the idea of whether or not the advice was even needed.
Once, as a new mom, I was trying to figure out how to unlock the new baby stroller. A lady with 2 kids in tow walked past me and said "try holding the handle and kind of dropping it--works for me" and I did and it did work--that time.
Of course that brings to mind tons of other examples of unsolicited advice to the new mom that were both unwanted and unwelcome.
SO, like everything else, it just depends.
For the most part, if the advice is needed, I thank them--regardless of whether or not I actually follow the advice. If it isn't needed, I ignore the offer if I can, if I'm not allowed to ignore I get snarky with something like, "Considering I didn't ask your opinion, we can both safely assume I don't care what you think."
Being a homeschooling mom, I've had plenty of occasions to use that line. Amazing how offensive some people find me after that. lol

Gram said...

Please do not write anything that is not dear to your heart. There are many of us who still read books. I did try a graphic at the library once. I gave up comic books before I was 10 years old - maybe younger and do not want to take them up again. Thanks for writing.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Mia, those are very thoughtful comments and I LOVE your reply to busybodies. You're a homeschooling mom? Very cool. Do you have a blog, I'll follow it. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Hi Gram, thank you for the words of encouragement. You are the best!! Yeah, I have to bite my tongue when perfect strangers tell me what I "should" be writing. You are so right, if you can't "feel: it, you can't write it. Thanks for stopping by!

Denise Z. said...

The most powerful advice I ever got wasn't from a stranger, but from someone I worked with that I so disliked, I would have run over her in my car and then backed up to make sure I got all the pieces. I was in the midst of a major depression and one evening she left a note on my desk that said "I see you struggling and I am so sorry. Here's the number to a good therapist." It made all the difference.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Denise, that is amazing! I am so glad she reached out to you and that her advice was useful. As a psychologist, I'm always happy to hear that we can make a positive difference in peoples' lives. Thanks so much for stopping by and brightening my day.

Unknown said...

As a hospice nurse, I treasured all the advice that I received from terminally ill people on how to live life. I've sat at the bedside of thousands of dying people in critical care and in hospice over 43 years as a nurse. The blessings they gave me far outweighed the comfort that I could give them.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Sally, that is such a wonderful thing to do! One of my friends is a hospice nurse-volunteer and she loves the work she does. That is a fantastic that you are doing this...I admire you...

Anonymous said...

As an artist I learned that people would often advise me to do what they would do. Eventually I realized that is what most people do in giving any kind of advice - including me giving advice to someone else. So my solution is to listen, say "Thank you," consider the advice, then do what I believe is best for me. That solution works for advice requested or unsolicited. And it is something I try to remember when someone doesn't use my advice. And, now to step off my soapbox. Smiling, Zena

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

Hi Zena, that is a very good approach! Love it! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts..

Margaret said...

I an NOT a fan of unsolicited advise from strangers, and it is the same way I feel about people asking intrusive and personal questions. I have never been the type to "throw out" advise to people unless I am asked and even then I tend to be very cautious. On couple of occasions, someone I have never met before, took it upon themselves to "advise" me about something they felt I should "change" about myself; and let's just say it was not advice I felt was warrantrd or even good advice for that matter. This is not to say I can not handle constructive crirticism, I can, but not from strangers who were not asked.
I do tend to be pretty strong willed, confident and very in control of my life, so my feelings about this may be different from others. But most of the time unsolicited advise just seems rude.

Dr. Mary Kennedy said...

I know what you mean, Margaret, it can be really annoying. Sometimes I wonder why people feel entitled to give unsolicited advice, it often comes off as criticism. Maybe they don't intend it that way, but it has a certain "I know better than you do" feel to it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Cynthia said...

A word of advice... keep up the good work! :) I think when one offers advice it's usually taken as as criticism... I believe it could be better if we stop and realize, it's not "what" we say, it's how we say it! I myself find advice to be food for thought!