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Auntie SparkNotes: My Cousin Is Studying a Pseudoscience! Should I Say Something?

Auntie SparkNotes: My Cousin Is Studying a Pseudoscience! Should I Say Something?

Hello Auntie!
So my problem may not be huge, but it has been bothering me for some time.

My aunt and uncle are homeopathic doctors in a country where it is widely accepted. However, I have recently realized that it is viewed as a pseudoscience by most of the scientific community. (I also did some research of my own, and it does seem rather far fetched, claiming that water has a "memory" and "vibrations" that can heal.)

The thing is, they aren't trying to fool people to make money, they really believe in this. They have gone through years of college and training,

Overall, I guess I can't do much, since it is not my place to tell them they are wrong. But now their son is looking into going to a college for homeopathy. I want to tell him not to. If regulations for it become harsher over time, he could be in a bad situation without a job and without relevant training. However, I really don't know how to do that without basically insulting him and his parents.

Should I try talking to him? Is there any polite way to do that?

I don't know! Shall we try it? Let's see, perhaps you could say something like...

"Cousin! Excuse me, but I have recently discovered that your chosen course of study is widely believed to be a giant, steaming crock of horse-shizz! And I mean that in the nicest possible way!"

...Yeah, okay, that definitely won't work. Because alas, you really can't be polite and respectful to your cousin while simultaneously telling him not to choose his choices—and not just because it implicitly disses your aunt and uncle's profession. When you offer unsolicited advice, whether you're questioning the validity of homeopathy as a career or heckling an English major about the purported uselessness of her degree, you fail to give people credit for knowing what's best for them; there's always this icky little undercurrent of, "And I'm telling you this because I believe you're too dumb and uninformed to make decisions on your own."

Which most people don't particularly appreciate (shocking!), and which is why the common wisdom when it comes to offering unsolicited advice is... uh, don't. Like, ever. The only exceptions are in rare cases where someone's life is at stake, or the even rarer ones where you're absolutely sure you have information the other person doesn't.

In your case, that brings us back to your cousin—and whether, despite being raised by homeopaths and planning to study the practice himself, he's still somehow unaware of its widespread reputation for being a bunch of baloney. Doesn't seem likely, does it? Far more likely, I think, is that he knows, but like most homeopathy enthusiasts, he doesn't think it's a problem... and therefore, that like most would-be givers of unsolicited advice, your best move is to butt out.

Although right after you butt out, you would also be perfectly within your rights to engage your cousin in an innocent intellectual discussion that begins like so: "You're studying homeopathy? How do you feel about all the backlash against it from the scientific community?"

Because when it comes to other people's lives, asking, not telling, is the name of the game. After all, your real goal isn't to change your cousin's decision; it's to help him make a thoughtful choice. And where saying "Don't do that" tends to make a person more mindlessly committed to his path, asking, "What do you think about that?" guarantees that he will. Think, I mean.

What's your take on unsolicited advice? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at
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Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, science, advice, medicine, pseudoscience

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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