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A word to the wise that applies

I am a complete advocate for thinking for yourself but there is something to be said for doing what you are told. You never know when the lucky numbers on the back of a fortune from the Chinese restaurant will win you the Mega Millions jackpot or when the nonsense instructions for cooking, cleaning and maintaining relationships your mother imparted to you will come in handy. Guidance can be a precious thing, and those who are willing to put aside their pride and admit that someone else just might know better could be gaining an advantage. But I certainly hope that those who haven't been accepting help and direction, those like me, have not completely lost the ability to recognize that at least some advice is worth heeding.

Happily, I felt that I was not alone in my foolish, stubborn desire to dismiss help and make my own decisions at any cost. Taking what seems like a great suggestion and completely ignoring it — or in fact doing the opposite — is not a new trend.

Over dinner last week my father described a piece he heard on National Public Radio that explained if every family in the country used a digital picture frame, the United States would be in need of five new power plants to keep them operating. While the story seemed to be advocating for more responsible energy use, my father somehow took it as a prompt to go out and purchase a digital picture frame.

Tuesday evenings, my mother clicks on "The Biggest Loser" and at the first commercial break she'll head into the kitchen to scoop a bowl of ice cream or grab a bag of chips. The advocates of healthy living trigger the cravings of her sweet tooth.

The very convincing editorial in last week's The Daily Targum examining how Facebook is bad for your health only got me thinking about logging on. Even the Denny's Grand Slam commercials, which dress pancakes in candy in an attempt to render them completely repulsive, cause me to dream about the fluffy, stacked breakfast food.

I began cultivating my ability to let suggestions float in one ear and out the other at a very early age, and I later grew to consider myself an expert. My parents were on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer me their point of view, yet I had a tendency to ignore even the most practical suggestions. Again and again they told me my body cannot handle the caffeine in the Starbucks coffee I love so dearly, and, sure enough, after each Frappuccino I was ultimately miserably sick but I kept going back for more. Though they always encouraged me to head home early when snow started coming down, I never seemed to avoid the icy perils of below freezing roads. Despite the many mistakes I regretted making and recognized I could have easily avoided, I continually justified ignoring advice on the premise that I have the ability to make my own choices.

My mother's choice to munch on potato chips rather than exercise is simply an indulgent denial of a health recommendation, yet the propensity to do the exact opposite of what we are advised is something most usually associated with teenage rebellion. This period where anything your parents demand you refuse is a typical life stage, but after getting past that stage can we forgot the positive role that guidance can play?

Sadly, there are too many excuses in today's social climate for deliberately denying help and suggestion. Looking out at the dismal economic situation, I empathize with those who suffered at Bernie Madoff's hands. It is difficult to blame any of them for choosing to stuff their mattresses with cash rather than investing. In fact, I can understand their skepticism extending to all other issues of trust. Unfortunately, the rest of us cannot afford to use Madoff's betrayal as an excuse for becoming critical of all outside opinions or instructions.

As students, we are in a position to benefit extremely from the advice of our deans, professors and parents. Essentially we are at the University exclusively for the expert instruction and guidance the school provides us. If we are not there to profit from the wisdom of others then why are we investing our money and time at the University?

There is always a place for individual decision making, but when you think that simply dismissing advice is thinking for yourself, think again. The NBC sitcom "30 Rock" seemingly put this issue into perspective. When a taxi driver tried to make Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon pay ransom for her missing cell phone, she shouted, "I'll definitely do that — on opposite day!" The driver excitedly went on to ask if that was a real thing in this country. For some stubborn individuals, opposite day — at least in terms of accepting guidance — may be every day. Advice and instruction has real value if you can use your judgment to find the middle ground between blindly accepting direction and blindly rejecting it. This is my advice on taking advice, and I suppose I'll consider taking it myself.

Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, "Definition of Insanity," runs on alternate Thursdays. She welcomes feedback at larisk@eden.rutgers.edu.

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