Today, in the queue at a pharmacy, I heard a lady asking if the shop sold jelly (Jello) suitable for people with diabetes. Upon being told that it wasn’t possible to buy it in the shop, she asked if the ladies at the counter had any ideas where she could find some. They didn’t know, and I automatically chipped in to suggest that a nearby health food shop might stock the kind of thing that she was after. She thanked me for the suggestion, and everyone seemed happy. After I left the shop, though, it occurred to me that my contribution to the conversation was unsolicited and could be deemed extremely rude. This got me thinking about the number of occasions on which I’ve done similar things – offered helpful suggestions or asked people who looked lost if they needed directions to any particular place. So – how do other readers feel about unsolicited help from unexpected people? 0207-13
The problem with unsolicited advice is that it reveals what everyone knows happens but prefers to not acknowledge, namely that people routinely overhear our conversations. Even if one cannot avoid overhearing a discussion between two or more strangers, the polite thing to do is to pretend you didn’t. That said, offering factual answers to a factual request is a kindness that benefits the person seeking information. I believe things happen for a purpose and maybe you just happened to be in the right place at the right time to offer a “key” that solves another person’s dilemma.
The problem is when the eavesdropper intrudes to offer an opinion as opposed to basic, factual information in the mistaken idea that they are being “helpful” and therefore kind. No, they are being busybodies intent on expounding on their own worldview. So if one must intrude on an overheard conversation, stick to the facts, i.e. that item can be found at this store, the directions to that place are this, it’s cheaper at XXX, they are closed on Mondays, etc.