The Shoelace Debate

The story “The Shoelace Debate” illustrates how unsolicited advice (whether direct or indirect) can provoke resistance, and how other interventions are often more effective.

“Your shoelaces are trailing on the ground,” my father said to me yesterday as we were strolling around the garden. “Yes,” I replied. “You look ridiculous,” he said. “Ah well,” I answered. “You might trip over them,” he said. “I might do many things…” I pondered. He carried on nagging for a long time, before finally concluding, “Giving children advice is a good way of making sure they won’t do what you want them to do – in fact they’ll generally do the opposite. My mother would often remind me that my favourite TV show was on soon. I knew that it would start before long and I wanted to watch it, but my mother’s reminders annoyed me so much that I didn’t watch it at all. My father rarely gave us advice. He was a wise man.” We looked into the pond and thought of my father’s father while gazing at the reflections of the sky and the clouds in the water.

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