For a few years, now, I’ve been thinking about what it means to take advice from “experts” in books (or in any medium for that matter). My husband was the one who first pointed out that whenever I read a self-help book, whether on how to train dogs or how to overcome shyness, I take it wholeheartedly as God’s honest truth! I’ve been aware of this tendency and have tried to keep an open mind whenever anyone gives me advice (for example, I need to start using wrinkle cream to “preserve” my looks!) or whenever I hear about a scientific study “proving” that dogs actually have emotions (gasp! Horror!).
In the past few months, however, I’ve really started considering who is considered an “expert” and how much damage could that person possibly do if he/she gave bad advice to lots of people. For example, a friend of mine from out of state asked about local museums. I told him about a great one in Greensboro, to which he replied that this other museum had been voted #1 on a travel website. “That one?” I was confused. The museum he’d mentioned was okay but kind of boring, and I told him so. “But it was voted number one!” he exclaimed. “But I’ve been there,” I said. “It’s just okay.” He ended up going to the boring museum, trusting the guidance of the website over that of an actual person who had been to the museum. No harm done. He liked it.
But that got me thinking about how much trust we sink into just about anyone who is published. A famous author wrote a few years ago about studies that show older children do better in their academic careers if they are a little older than their peers, and now a generation of parents are keeping their five-year-olds back, waiting until they turn six to start school. A famous actress (not a doctor or even biologist) says that vaccines are causing autism, based on a study done years ago that has been disproved. Now, scores of parents are refusing vaccines — I wonder what the long-term effects of that will be! And a National Book Award Winner writes about depression — he states at the beginning of the book that he’s not a doctor — with the air of an “expert,” citing facts and studies but obviously he can’t cover everything that’s ever been written about depression. After reading the book, I’m left feeling more hopeless and depressed than ever!
My point is just what my husband told me years ago — don’t believe everything you read. Don’t take it as “truth.” Read from lots of sources and talk to people, experts and everyday people who have experienced depression or dog training or who have a child with autism. Studies can show just about anything, depending upon who conducts it and who funds it, who interprets the data. Maybe all this is obvious to you, but I have to keep reminding myself — just because someone is famous or has a PhD or went to Harvard or has an English accent or has won the National Book Award doesn’t make him/her holder of the world’s TRUTH. And, maybe just as important, trust your gut. Don’t take it from me; go out and find out the truth for yourself!