To avoid arguments with strangers who are wrong on the internet, consider the following substitution in your mind as you read.

“You shouldn’t do X” or “Don’t do X” or “Stop doing X”


“You might not need to do X (especially merely because some book seems to recommend it). You might still choose to do X, but ask yourself whether that was a conscious choice, and if it wasn’t, then reconsider.”

Not as pithy, but much more accurate. And no need to correct internet strangers. That’s probably quite close to what they mean, anyway.

Some Theory

You probably remember a parent or other authority figure telling you that you can’t change them, but you always have the power to change yourself. I offer this trick as an example of how to do that.

You might feel annoyed that they don’t express themselves more precisely, resorting to blunt instruments such as “Don’t do X” when they really mean something much more nuanced. I understand that impulse, but I have found it helpful to imagine that they struggle to express themselves that way, even though it seems pretty easy to me. I know that, in moments of great stress, I fail to express myself with such emotional granularity as I can ordinarily do. Perhaps they’re under that kind of stress right now and that’s what motivated them to write about their advice, anyway!

What have we seen at work here? It depends on how you learned about it. I know these phrases and labels.

  • blaming stance
  • giraffe ears
  • emotional granularity
  • “Under stress, we fall back on our training.”
  • I am entirely responsible for my own emotional state

You don’t need to believe in or agree with all these, but perhaps one of two of them speaks to you.