Is it ever OK to give advice to strangers?

Among my favorite yoga blogs is Jessica Berger Gross’s Enlightened Motherhood, a Yoga Journal blog. Recently I was reminded of her August 11, 2010, post, “Don’t Be a Baby: And Other Things Not to Say to Your Child (Or to Your Yoga Students),” in which she contemplates whether it’s ever appropriate to offer parenting advice to strangers.

At the gym, I watched a guy doing behind-the-neck shoulder presses with a barbell. Dressed in a snug white wife beater, he was obviously “into” working out and proud of his body. But, while he and his workout buddy were decently fit, his lumbar spine formed a stunningly concave C-shape. With each rep, I could practically feel his lumbar vertebrae crunching.

He was just a college kid, around 20, and if I knew him, I might have tactfully commented on his posture. First, lifting heavy weights with such lordosis is dangerous. The only thing saving his spine right now: youth. Second, an overarched lumbar spine is simply not attractive on a guy!

Of course, I said nothing. What crazy busybody would advise a total stranger on his posture? (Actually, a stranger once voluntarily gave me pointers on my freestyle stroke between our laps. He was polite and I was grateful. At the time I was obsessed with my lap swimming and flip turn (both peppy but amateurish) and welcomed any free advice.)

I tried to recall a question I’d read years ago in the New York Times Magazine Ethicist column by a physician who noticed a mole on a stranger’s skin. The physician refrained from approaching the stranger, but wondered if she should have: if it was her ethical duty to advise. Alas, I couldn’t recall the Ethicist’s answer.

I do occasionally warn strangers about leaving their dogs unattended. Once, walking north on Denman Street in Vancouver, a group of us noticed a Jack Russell terrier tied on a bike rack outside the public library. Later, retracing our footsteps south, we noticed a distraught couple near the library. The young woman was crying and holding a leash. Someone had stolen her dog. How easily that nightmare could’ve been prevented!

It’s one thing to warn dog owners about dognapping, or to remind your dad to stand up straight. But advising strangers about their kids or their bodies is perhaps another matter.

Images: Joy on Bike; Jack Russell Terrier Club of Canada

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5 thoughts on “Is it ever OK to give advice to strangers?

  1. I stop myself. there was a time when I would have, but not anymore. I began to question my reasoning for doing so, so stopped.

  2. I think the same question could be asked regarding freinds and family. Most of the time (please note, I say “most”) it’s best to leave ones opinions to oneself.

    For myself, I’m too much of an introvert to be giving unsolisited advice to strangers.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I ask myself this often. What I tend to do is use it as a learning opportunity for myself. I say, “if that person were my student, what would I offer as an alternative?” I learn something, and perhaps the universe will provide that information to the stranger in another forum.

  4. So glad I’m not the only one who wants to help people with their posture! I teach yoga at a gym and have to walk by all the guys with horrible posture and I just cringe. Doesn’t that HURT?! No pain, no gain is going to lead you to a broken hip at 50. But, I never say anything. I just walk through it in my mind, hit the anatomy books, and come up with a brilliant answer…just in case one of them grabs me as I leave class and asks. 😉

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