Updated: Jun 19
(Q) As a kid I was taught to keep my hands and my opinions to myself. I never got into fights, and I learned to think before I speak. Am I alone out here? Everyone seems to have such strong opinions, and they want to make sure everyone hears them – commentators, influencers, popularizers, pundits, and protestors – all have something to say or to sell. Are we really entitled to everyone’s opinion?
(A) In my house, children (me) were seen but rarely heard. That didn’t work out too well for me. It took me a long time to develop a voice of my own. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” was another common saying. Where did these people go? I wonder if they are the parents of today’s hotheads.
Presently, the world has embraced the paradigm of the individual. I, Me, My. My home, my job, my car, my phone, my stuff, my voice, my vote. It’s where we are right now. This is true almost everywhere, and as many of us have experienced, it is especially true on social media and other public platforms. Having a voice, a vote, and a lot of stuff, should make us feel empowered, but it hasn’t. Instead, we feel powerless.
Long ago, people worked toward common goals. Some of the goals were so large that they could not be completed in one lifetime, but individuals persevered because the goal was worth it. It was understood that people would continue to benefit from the effort that was made. This gave the goal meaning and purpose, which inspired individuals to offer up their best. That is not the case now. Today, we expect the fruits of our labors to pay off in our lifetime. The sooner the better. We thought the world would look and feel differently than it does. We didn’t expect life would be this hard. We were wrong. We were wrong about many things, and we are seeing that clearly now. People are waking up to these and other truths, and they (we) are shaken and upset.
Not knowing what to do about how we feel is what we are seeing in the world right now. We are seeing the effects of being overworked, underappreciated, left behind and left out. Blame is one of the ways we act out, violence is another. There are many positive engagements too, but they are less visible. These days, the loudest voice, biggest headline, most extensive PR campaign, or most sensational post gets the most attention. That will change one day, but not yet – it’s messy out there!
I do feel opinions, even opposing ones, are important and welcome when they are communicated respectfully. We can agree to disagree without brawling. Did you know that the word “courtesy” originally referred to how one should behave at court? People were pretty uncivilized way back when and were often physically restrained or evicted from polite society or gentle establishments.
I enjoy reading different points of view. It adds perspective and depth, and makes the world seem less like a chain store or restaurant where the merchandise or food is the same no matter where you go. Sometimes I have to search these out on my own, because computerized algorithms mostly determine my preferences for me. If we become too accustomed to seeing or hearing only what we prefer, we won’t know what to do with something (someone) that is not that. We may automatically think there is something wrong with that or them.
There are many reasons why things are more intense these days – too many to go into in this short response, but we should also consider that as the planet warms up, so do our tempers. A continual rise in population, less personal space, and fewer opportunities, are just a few more issues to add to the list.
In general, we seem less concerned with opinions – judgments on the other hand seem to stab us in the gut! Judgments are moral evaluations. They can have harmful and negative consequences and can get in the way of fixing the many problems we face. They are unempathetic and diminish others. Judgmental people often reject views that are other than their own, especially if they feel threatened by them.
Of course, we have been speaking about them, and not us. But we can also be judgmental. Science tells us that it takes just one-tenth of a second for us to start judging. A judgmental mind is trained to find the bad in others and in ourselves, which only increases our level of stress. Stress weakens the immune system and increases the odds of fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Judgment gives the hypercritical mind permission to give excessive advice, leaving us exhausted and emotionally drained.
Cynicism, another looming threat, sometimes masquerades as wisdom, but often begins as a wound that festers and never heals. Cynicism criticizes old ideas and shoots down new ones. Cynics believe they know how the world works and why. They point out all the ways things are likely to go wrong. Cynicism holds the world at a distance, mocking anyone who sees it differently.
Cynics may appear quite intelligent as they tell us that we are wasting our time believing or working toward something new. They may have taken risks long ago, but not today. At a distance, on their keyboards, they tap out a message that ridicules or demeans.
The cynics words mask his despair. He believes nothing matters, at least not anymore. There is an ache in his heart; a pervasive dread that everything is pointless and a waste of time. Cynicism is a social disease. If possible, we should avoid it as we have learned to do with the virus. Cynicism is contagious!
So, here’s what I try to do. I encourage a variety of viewpoints, attitudes, and perspectives. I welcome opinions that are not finite, exclusionary, or conclusive. I discourage concrete beliefs, and judgments that are obstinately intolerant and prejudicial. I do my best to stay away from people whose most obvious trait is self-importance, and who have an inordinately high regard for themselves. I help the humble uplift and restore their character; I help them find their voice.
Like you, I try to choose my words wisely. But even when I think I’m getting it right, I sometimes get it wrong. So, giving people a lot of room to have a difference of opinion makes sense right now. Space, tolerance, compassion. Repeat.