My Grandma Gave Me Unsolicited Advice – And I Needed it
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | September 23, 2022
I was in my 20s, my sister was getting married, and at the reception, one of my parents’ friends came up to me and said hi. “Come over here Kris,” she gestured towards an empty table, “I want to talk to you.” I thought we were going to catch up about old times, but as it turned out, she had a different agenda.
She asked me if I was going to church regularly. I told her no because I was exploring other spiritual paths. Then she launched into a 20-minute diatribe about how I needed to get it together, go to confession, get back to church, be a good Catholic, hell was waiting, etc.
Fortunately, her husband eventually noticed the proselytizing and swooped in to rescue me (clearly he’d played that role before). I was a bit shell shocked when she got up and left, she hadn’t been like that growing up. It must’ve shown because my grandmother sat down next to me and said, “What’s wrong Krissy?” Grandma Weber was a devoted Catholic, and a loving, kind person who baked us poppy seed roll when she visited. She was also an old-school Slovak bad ass.
I told her what had happened.
The compassion on her face collapsed into a scoff. She stood up and said, “Are you kidding me? And you sat here and listened to that nonsense? It’s your own fault!” Then she stomped away, probably disappointed that her badass genes had not been passed on.
Grandma was right – I had been ridiculous. And she had given me some appropriate, transformative, unsolicited advice. That kind of unsolicited advice, from a person I love, trust, and respect is really empowering. I did not feel shamed or judged, I felt motivated to change.
Last week I wrote about unsolicited advice in the yoga space. And while most of the responses were along the lines of “Guilty as charged”, “Thank you”, or “That needed to be said,” others argued that sometimes advice is important or lifesaving, even when it’s not solicited – and I think there are some important points there.
But I was writing about giving unsolicited advice in the professional context of being a yoga teacher. When folks come to my classes, I’m assuming that they want my opinion about yoga – but only about yoga, yoga therapy, and healthy living (dinacaryā) – not their marriage, their personality, their politics, or their parenting.
I realize there are times when asked about something yoga related, that I can veer off into opinion land. That’s pretty human. We’re social creatures. We often like to bounce ideas off of each other – listen to different opinions and talk about things that have worked for us in the past.
But opinions and advice are different things. We are all entitled to our opinions – but when we whittle them into advice that we then stick into others, that’s a different story.
When I’m not wearing my yoga teacher hat, there are times in my life, with people I love, that I believe unsolicited advice is warranted.
In my role as mom, I have given unsolicited advice to my teenage son (and his friends) about life and death topics like driving, drinking, and drugs – though I’ve tried hard to keep it in the realm of health, logic and law, not hysterical maternal terror. Now that he’s in college I work hard to try to remember to ask if he would like my advice before giving it – which feels like an appropriate evolution of our relationship. Still, sometimes I get my Grandma Weber on and spew advice, because sometimes, he still needs it.
As for adults, there are times when opening my big mouth has felt completely appropriate. There’s a person in my life who struggles with addiction and has been hospitalized for it several times. I admit that I have offered this person unsolicited advice – I’ve even shown up uninvited, taken charge of situations, and made decisions for them.
Chronic relapse can be an ongoing life and death situation. If I had tried to be polite and not offer advice, this person may have died (and BTW, I am aware of the theories about addiction recovery that eschew interventions even at this level that would find my actions unethical or co-dependent. For me, making the call to intervene was not difficult because this person’s life was more important to me than risking being labeled an unsolicited advice giver). When this person is not relapsing or in danger, I work hard to avoid giving unsolicited advice.
There are a few people in my life with whom I feel perfectly comfortable with both spontaneously sharing my advice, and whose spontaneous advice I appreciate – it’s implicitly solicited. We have a tacit agreement – only because there is mutual love, trust, respect, and non-judgment.
Sometimes that dynamic arises in my slightly larger social circle, but in those cases it’s still really nice, in both directions, to ask permission. It demonstrates the kindness, compassion, and lack of judgment you feel for that person. And that’s what it all boils down to in the end anyway. My grandma could say anything she wanted to me, and I never felt judged, berated, or shamed – because I knew she loved me unconditionally.
Getting back to the yoga space, there have been a few times I felt it necessary to intervene with students in teacher training programs because of extreme mental or behavioral health situations. I asked them if they were getting professional help and made their continued participation contingent upon it. Unsolicited advice? Perhaps. Necessary for ensuring the safety of the student, maintaining professional boundaries, and the safety of the group process? Definitely.
There are no absolutes in the advice-iverse, but we can navigate every situation as it arises and work the yamas and niyamas. It may be prudent to turn the mirror back on ourselves and evaluate whether we are the ones who actually need the advice. Are we projecting our own sh*t onto others? Are we afraid of their pain? Are we being nosey and/or judgmental – those are important questions to keep alive.
When people are struggling, they often don’t want advice, but rather someone with a compassionate, kind face with good listening skills to hold some space for them. I loved and trusted my grandma, she freely gave me unsolicited advice and it was okay. I don’t feel that way about everyone.
So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts (or even advice) on this topic!
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