You Need to Know the Worst Time to Have an Opinion
There’s a reason why we find the opinions of others distasteful. It isn’t because they’re wrong (even though we always think so), or because they’re invalid (even though an insane amount of people make up their mind without even checking in on the facts).
The reason why opinions are often so uncomfortable to us is they are untimely.
When someone shares their opinion in the wrong environment, or without the requisite level of intimacy, we find ourselves privately doubling over with disgust.
To borrow inspiration from one of my son’s toddler books: opinions are like belly buttons. Everyone has one, but there is a right time and place to showcase yours. Sure, you may have the right to walk around the mall in your crop top, but you’re going to alienate people.
Of course, we’ve all been on the other side of this. You can feel when the room gets awkward because of something you’ve said. Perhaps this is why, although these guidelines might seem obvious, we could use a quick refresher. Our feelings of entitlement occasionally get the better of us.
A bit of discretion could do us some good. Here’s a little reminder for the worst times to expose our bellybuttons.
1. WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION, AND THE SITUATION CALLS FOR EXPERTISE.
Of course, it’s always a good idea to gather more information before you spout off your opinion. But life is full of ambiguity, and it’s hard to know just how much insight you need before your opinion is valid. Do you have to go to the restaurant and eat its terrible food before you can trust the reviews you read? Of course not. We work with what we know, and hopefully we stay open to new information.
But lacking information is especially bad when the moment needs the wisdom of experience.
Too many people feel far too comfortable mistrusting the experts.
Individuals have given their lives over to understanding certain things, and we shouldn’t just take them for granted.
We should probably start listening to doctors and scientists again, and be a little less proud of our ignorance. If you listen to the talking heads on those news networks for longer than ten seconds, you’ll find some over-confidant individual saying something like, “Well, I’m no expert, but…” Or maybe you’ll hear a politician spout something like, “People are tired of hearing from the so-called ‘Experts!’” And the crowd will cheer, as though this is a good thing.
Of course, you won’t agree with all the experts. They don’t agree with each other! This is why they have devoted their life to their field. But we won’t exaggerate the importance of our voice to the conversation if we choose to learn from them.
What if we keep our opinions to ourselves, until the scale of the issue gives us a little humility?
I think it would help everybody.
2. WHEN YOU STILL ONLY GRASP THE PROBLEM, BUT YOU HAVEN’T WRESTLED WITH THE ANSWER.
Just because you can identify the problem doesn’t mean you have the solution.
You should probably re-read that. I know I have to remind myself of this time and time again. In fact, I have to repeat it under my breath whenever I’m tempted to get in an argument with someone.
Most people are good at diagnosis. It doesn’t take a stroke of genius to see when something is wrong. And most of our opinions fall squarely in the “Let Me Tell You About Your Problem” category. It’s where most complaints about your workplace, and most grievances you have with the government, are filed.
It takes an understanding spirit to wrestle down solutions.
Some people are so preoccupied with their offences, they haven’t stopped to consider the magnitude and scale of trying to fix them. Others are far too certain they already have the answer.
They think identifying the problem makes them most qualified to solve it. These are actually two very different processes. You might not like the way the movie was made–you could even make a living out of criticizing such films–without ever understanding the enormous undertaking of creating a motion picture. You might not like what the chef did to your steak, but you have no idea what goes into raising the cow.
Here’s how I spot someone who has the right to share their solutions: they’ve struggled with the answers they’re offering. They aren’t glib or self-satisfied about it. They know there are plenty of good points that contradict their answer, and they respect those they disagree with.
They’ve let go of their “problem-spotting” glasses, and busted out the white board and graphing paper instead. They have put the right amount of sweat and self-doubt into their opinions.
If the problem is still looking for answers, and your opinion doesn’t offer any? Maybe just keep it to yourself.
And if you think you have an answer, but you haven’t shed any of your own blood over it? Don’t try to draw someone else’s.
3. WHENEVER YOU FEEL ENTITLED TO COMMENT ON SOMEONE ELSE’S SUFFERING.
This one should be the simplest of the bunch. It should be most intuitive for us, just to keep our mouths shut–but some of us still end up saying something. We know we are supposed to keep our bellies out of sight at a funeral–but then someone shows up in a speedo to remind us it’s a “free country”.
Have you ever wondered what it took for the Romans to feel comfortable voting on the fate of their wounded gladiators in the Colosseum? What could possibly make someone’s heart so callous that they could decide on the death of another person just by observing the fight? I can’t be sure, but I have a suspicion.
Whenever we feel comfortable passing judgement on someone else’s experience, we move outside compassion.
I’m astounded, and ashamed, by the number of white people who feel compelled to critique the Black Lives Matter movement. I get uncomfortable when straight people comment on what they think the LGBTQ community really wants; or when I overhear a mall patron speculate on what the homeless person is really going to do with the change someone threw into their hat.
Does someone else have to convince you of their suffering, or can you just take their word for it?
Is it difficult for you to admit your own bias, or do you really feel objective enough to comment on another person’s STORY?
How much pain does someone else have to go through before you’re willing to move your agenda out of the foreground?
Some people might even lash out at these sorts of questions and accuse me of giving into a “victim culture”. But even this presupposes my right to judgement! I will concede that some suffering is self-inflicted, and nobody should choose to play the victim–but I am not the one to call them on it. I have no right to barge in with my opinion and tell the aggrieved to let go of their self-pity until they give me that right.
I would rather err on the side of compassion than deceive myself into thinking I already know the measure of someone else’s pain.
We need sound judgement, and good ideas. We need patience, and dialogue. We need to disagree smarter, and more passionately-not less. But we have to elevate the level of conversation we’re having. We have to become better at sharing our opinions in a healthy way.
This isn’t just for you. It’s first for me–and you can confront me with it. If you ever see me walking around in a crop top, don’t hesitate to call the police on me.