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Thinking Outside the Box

What I’ve Learned from Reading Advice Columns

Over the past few years, I’ve been reading advice columns in various news sites. It started with The Washington Post simply because it was there. Then, WaPo put up more and more aggressive paywalls. When I finally got to the point where I didn’t want to mess around trying to figure out ways around their paywall, I searched for other sites that offered the same syndicated material. It was my way of thumbing my nose at WaPo and other sites that think they own the news. Eventually, I found a site that carries all the WaPo advice columns except one, WaPo’s own syndicated columnist.

Anyway, I’ve been reading various advice columns for about 3 years and have concluded that almost all problems, issues, questions, conflicts boil down to similar points and, more importantly, almost all solutions boil down to the same advice. First, almost all letters have to do with problems, issues, questions or conflicts with friends/family, co-workers/colleagues or strangers. Almost all letters involve things the letter writer agrees with, disagrees with or wants the columnist to referee.

For example, Neighbor 1 (Writer) wants Neighbor 2 (N2) to stop his small yappy dog (SYD) from yapping and disturbing Writer’s wa (harmony.) Writer asks Advice Columnist (C1) for advice. C1 advises: 1) Talk to N2 and ask for N2’s help, 2) Ask town animal control for help, 3) Suck it up and deal with it. I never hear innovative answers like soak doggie treats in laxative and feed to SYD. It won’t hurt it but will cause a mess for N2. After a while SYD may be re-homed. Another solution might be an ultrasonic dog trainer. Each time SYD barks, it triggers an ultrasonic sound that baffles the dog. It stops yapping while trying to deduce whether it might be a threat. A third solution could be put out food for the huge horned owl that lives in N3’s tree. In the best case, the owl could snatch up SYD for dinner but a less Draconian result might be if SYD is too frightened to come outside.


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