Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Babbling Idiot

...and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending. -- Herman Melville, Moby Dick 
As we were headed for the Chinese restaurant, the conversation turned, as it so often does, to an acquaintance who happened to be ill. In this case, the co-worker with whom I was lunching was telling me about his friend who was back in the hospital with a disease that has potential serious consequences if not treated effectively. Before too long, I found myself pontificating on the subject and offering opinions about what course the patient might follow. Suddenly, I realized what was happening.

Once again, the Bad-Advice gene had struck.

Science has mapped the human genome, so I am certain they have identified this dreadful little bugger, as well as its better half, the Good-Advice gene. We all have both. When the Good-Advice (GA) gene is functional, we behave entirely differently than when the Bad-Advice (BA) gene is dominating.

When GA is ascendant, we keep our mouths shut unless we have something dependable and intelligent to say. Unfortunately, BA is often more aggressive and takes over our lives, forcing us to say unctuous things and offer advice based on in-depth science or psychological journals like The Readers' Digest.

The BA gene also has a direct connection to the Babbling Idiot (BI) gene, which produces the unfortunate result that once we start delivering this unsolicited advice, we're difficult to stop. On a really good day (or a bad one depending on whether you're advising or being advised), our advice can be totally contradictory. We can recommend that a friend go on the Atkins diet one minute and suggest that extreme diets are dangerous in the next. And do it with a straight face, too.

Now, I like to think that, in my case, I still have enough GA working to avoid such attacks. But, it goes to show that one must be vigilant. Given the chance, BA will rip out GA's heart and stomp that sucker flat (from the song of the same name). When that happens, a person is in real trouble.

The GA gene not only keeps us from giving stupid advice, it also keeps us from asking for stupid advice. It even prevents us from accepting our own bad ideas. When BA beats GA into submission, your very soul is in peril.

You can spot a person whose GA has gone to its reward in a New York minute. He is always telling you about some troubled person and how it's really none of his business, but if it was his freemish that had gone cronk, he would definitely take a bleem as soon as possible. Before the conversation is out, he will change the subject to his current woe and practically beg you for your opinion about whether a damaged foobar should be repaired or replaced.

Do not allow this person to draw you in. He will reject each piece of advice you offer until you manage to give completely contradictory opinions concerning the best action to take. That's what your BA is waiting for. Once it has you in its clutches, you'll be suggesting to perfect strangers at Home Depot how they should redecorate their garages.

Of course, you don't have to take my advice.

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