The consequences of advice

When HSBC was caught laundering dirty money for drug cartels they said they were very, very sorry. When this student got into a heated debate with a lecturer, he said that he was the beneficiary of white privilege, of an unfairly gained advantage. When a politician gets caught up in a scandal, he releases a statement that 1) justifies why he did it, and 2) says that he won’t do it again.

Words don’t cost a thing. 

HSBC said they were sorry. But what did they do to show it? They paid a measly fine. That’s it. No one was fired, no one went to jail. The bank continued to operate.

The student said he believed that people, himself included, benefited from unethically and immorally gained opportunities. But what did he do about that believe? Was he willing to give his position at university to a member of the disadvantaged population he was advocating for? Nope.

A politician can make a grandiose statement that says that he’s sorry. But what does he do to display his repentance? Nothing. Instead, he uses the crisis as an opportunity to forward his agenda.

All over the internet there are opportunities to give advice. One such place that comes to mind is a subreddit on relationships. People post about situations and problems in a relationship, others respond describing possible ways to deal with or overcome said problems.

That’s fine, as long as you keep in mind that talk is cheap, that words don’t cost a thing, as long as you remember that the advice givers in such a place have no skin in the game. The result of the advice they give—be it positive or negative—doesn’t actually affect them. It’s as if their counsel is given in one universe and undertaken in another, where the effects don’t affect them in any way.

Now contrast that with an uncle giving some relationship advice to his nephew. The uncle has some skin in the game. The impact of his advice concerning his nephew’s relationship will impact the strength of the relationship between the uncle and his nephew.

Or, another example. A social worker working with a family in which the father is abusing the mother has skin in the game. Every decision she makes and action she takes is recorded, monitored and analysed, pre and post-contact. If she gives advice or does something that leads to a serious incident, perhaps endangering a young child, she is held responsible. She could be suspended, maybe even sent to jail.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s easy to give advice when the impact of that advice doesn’t actually affect you. There’s no risk in saying “You should just confront him about it.”  There’s risk in saying “You should confront him. I’ll go with you right now.” 

Out of this we can conceive a heuristic: give advice if, and only if, you are personally affected—positively or negatively—by the consequences.