Think Before Giving Advice

I am often surprised at how mechanical being in a relationship with someone is. There are many incidences where parents conjure up a checklist of sorts in our society. It usually has to do with whether or not the partner has a “good family” or a good income. It is rarely about how one feels.

As young Ethiopians are discouraged from dating or even at times from socialising with the opposite sex, marriage seems to happen out of convenience.

“When are you getting married?” is one of the ways that parents harangue their children with.

Is marriage for everyone though?

It seems unsolicited advice constantly harasses those who choose not to opt for the married life even from those that have publicly acknowledged they are unhappily married.

Marriage is seen as a rite of passage, and that may be so, but our criteria for how we are expected to transition into it is lacking. I have met many that have married out of obligation, or to ward off the stigma.

There seem to be too many blurred lines as to who should best give advice, to whom, when, and what boundaries must be upheld. It does not help that the relationships between family members are mostly intrusive.

I know of relatives who would go to a church and pray for a future they do not even want. This is a result of most family members that think they know what is best for us and dismiss the claims we have on our future. Even if these gestures are in good faith, it does not excuse that they are misguided. There needs to be proper boundaries and lines that must not be crossed.

There was a lot of conversation this week regarding suicide after two well-known celebrities – Anthony Bourdian and Kate Spade – killed themselves. It pointed to a glaring truth that depression can hit anyone, irrespective of social status.

Depression can feel like everything is falling apart. And while suicide can feel like the only way out, sometimes people need a hand to get over that moment and take a step forward. This is where those around us can be of help.

Many have been vocal in saying that those dealing with a hard time should ask for help but asking for help at such times is not easy. Instead, we need to be the type of family member, relative or friend who can be there when we can sense our loved one is in need. This should be how we walk the thin line between being intrusive and helpful – by being non-judgmental and committed.

That is not how we are dealing with each other though. I have seen many are merely going through formalities, ticking off social engagements like job-related events. The fake tears at wakes and the snide remarks at weddings have tarnished much of my respect for social gatherings.

Family and friends should be around for each other’s happiness as well as the unfortunate times. Advice to people ought to not be something easily given for us to fulfil some traditional requirement but must be thoughtful. It should be those who not only care but know us, that should give it. We know better when we listen to them.

But most that give personal advice are the sort that pat themselves on the back for being knights dedicated to righting the wrongs of society.

Some even dare to live their lives in the manner that they see fit while trying to chain those around them in the name of “do not make the mistakes I have made.”

The importance of listening and being present for our loved ones should trump any ideals we think we must uphold.

We must live with the understanding that our way of life cannot be a preaching ground. We need to take a step back from appointing ourselves the authority to dictate, approve or disapprove of how people live their lives. Our principle should be to make sure that those we love are happy while not gaging them with our prerequisites..


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Jun 17,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 947]



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