Unsolicited Advice

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange, like most of us, doesn’t care much for unsolicited advice.

(LANGE) Here’s some advice from an Appalachian Trail guide book by Dan Bruce: “Porcupines crave salt and will eat your boots and sweaty items if you fail to hang them out of reach.” Well, duh.

If you were to try to give me some advice, I’d reply with a slight grimace. Like most people, I turn off when somebody begins a sentence with, “If I were you,” or “Well, it’s none of my business, but…,” or “You should always avoid…”

And yet, on my bookshelves is a three-foot section of books just loaded with advice. Not personal stuff; no self-help manuals or weight-loss techniques. Just guide books – to the Great Smokies, the Appalachian Mountain Club huts, the Connecticut Valley, the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks.

Here’s some typical advice on climbing Mount St. Helens: “To ensure that your climb is safe and enjoyable, have the proper equipment. Although the climb is not steep, it may reach an angle of 35 degrees, and a small slide could get out of control. Lug-soled boots are important…ice ax, walking staff, or ski poles for balance and aid on the steeper sections and on the loose rock and pumice.”

Only an idiot would ignore that. Yet a lot of perfectly intelligent people do. Like me, they probably bridle at the word, “proper.”

A terrible word, proper – very popular in Victorian England and Bismarckian Germany, and the favorite target of three of my favorite writers, William Gilbert, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. It attempts to add moral weight to reasonable advice that renders it unbearable and guarantees it won’t be followed. Years ago, a shopkeeper in our town, who did his own radio commercials, used to say, “Come to see us. We will give you the advice you need to make the proper decision.” I never went. My reaction to the word is an allergy caused by overexposure during childhood.

From The Dartmouth Outing Club Guide: “Littering of any sort is unforgivable. Many noble outdoors-people make a habit of picking up all trash that they see in the wilderness. At the very least, make things no worse.”

The problem with advice like that is it’s preaching to the choir: Those who need it don’t read or heed advice in the first place. The most frequently seen word along the road past our property in Etna, for example, is “Budweiser.”

Mary Kibling, in her book Walks and Rambles in the Upper Connecticut River Valley, writes, “You really shouldn’t walk alone. If you must walk alone, please let somebody know that you’re going and when you expect to return – then be sure to let that person know when you’re back.”

I’m tempted to give Ms. Kibling my solution to this commonly ignored rule: Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone. But I don’t think she’d buy it.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, advising you to make resolutions you can keep.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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