Black Lives Matter, changing the names of Fourteeners that were named after men who led massacres on Native American tribes, changing the names of sports teams that may reflect derogatory connotations of Native Americans, gun laws, how to deal with COVID-19… It seems like everyone has an opinion and are happy to share that opinion on social media, often in not-so-nice ways. I often wonder why I keep my Facebook account, or at least unfriend everyone besides my sister and Esther the Wonder Pig.
We live in the day and age of opinions, which is a form of freedom of speech. And, while the quote “opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one”, has truth to it, I don’t agree with the implication that opinions are always bad. Some can be useful sources of information and having different perspectives on things is important for any person, and any nation, that wants to develop and grow. More so, I believe that when we voice our opinions to a public audience, we also have a responsibility to share an informed opinion. For example, if you don’t like when an athlete kneels during the National Anthem, at least research why he did it. If you still disagree with the action after doing your homework, that’s totally fine, just don’t make your own false conclusions without that knowledge. If you don’t agree about a professional sports team or high school changing their team/mascot because of possible racist assiociations, at least research the history of the name and also allow the minority group to express their freedom of speech. (It’s fascinating to me how many white people say they “worry” about losing their freedom of speech, but are happy to deny that freedom to others.) Politics are tricky, because often what is reported on television news channels are tiny clips of what someone said and/or taken out of context, OR are also opinion-based rather than fact-based (which I don’t always find as useful from my news sources…so maybe the key is to at least know that the TV news channel you’re watching is biased one way or the other). Along those lines, we also want to avoid rabbit holes and creating fallacies. As an example, I’ll use a snippet of a conversation with a friend discussing the Cleveland Indians considering changing their name, after conferring with the Native American community. My opinion was that this seemed reasonable, given that an estimated 100 million Native Americans were massacred during the colonization of this country and still live under oppressive guidelines. Her reply was something like “so then should we all go back to Europe?” At least from my knowledge base, I have found zero evidence to support the theory that all white people would be either willing or forced to go back to Europe.
Okay, so I’ve laid out some ways on how not to give an opinion (based on my opinion), so how does one give a good opinion? If you go back and review a few of my examples in the above paragraph, you’ll see I included a few links which hopefully shows that I did some research to support my opinion. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert to give an opinion or always use citations (obviously, I did not use APA guidelines in this blog post), it just means you should put in a little work, and then be open (more on this in a bit) if someone supports an opinion different than yours with a better source. We also want to give our opinions some thought before sharing, which may include some self-reflection. This might mean a few minutes, a few days, or even longer. Remember, just because a social media post is there in your feed now that you have to comment right at this second.
I’m going to add onto this point by also adding: think for yourself and avoid meme-logic*. There are some really creative and witty memes out there. I won’t lie and say I’ve never shared one on my Facebook page. The issue with these memes, however, is that the one liners may sound really good, but they stop us from thinking issues through, and we want to use that amazing brain of yours. “Think for yourself” sounds like a “duh” statement, but unfortunately, many people were not taught how to do that. For most of our lives, teachers, religious leaders, and parents have told us what to think, not how to think. Sure, we may have learned some critical thinking in math class, but we really should have been using those skills in history and English class (I was lucky enough to have a few good English teachers in high school, whom I didn’t appreciate as much at the time).
*I am 100% using and modifying Dennis Henigan’s term “bumper sticker logic”, which he describes in his book Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy
You also want to be in control of your emotions. I have to laugh at this one a little bit, as various men have attacked me who are clearly not in control of their emotions and unfortunately, we then don’t get to engage in an intellectual conversation. Some (mainly men) would think that because I am a woman and an empath, that I might be too emotional. It is true that I do feel intensely, but more so it means that I have 1) the ability to put myself in another’s shoes 2) I am highly attuned to the energy and environment around me and 3) I can use my emotions as sources of information.
Point 3 is the key here. Emotions are valuable sources of information and need to be felt, but we want to manage how they are expressed. For instance, I may feel angry because I have heard about an injustice. How do I want to direct the energy of my anger? I may do some writing, a physical activity, or talk to a friend, (and yes, maybe some crying) but then I put my energy into researching the topic more. I then use that anger as a source of courage to voice my opinion. BUT, while emotions always provide accurate information to how we are feeling, they don’t always provide us with logical answers to why we are feeling the way we are feeling. Let’s say I’m feeling angry because someone voices a different opinion than mine on a post I made. They may have even done it in a calm and informative way, and yet I still feel attacked. I could say “Well, I’m angry because this person attacked (disagreed) with me, so they’re the jerk.” Or, I could take a step back and do some honest self-reflection. I might realize that when someone disagrees with me, it triggers this story in my head that “I’m just not smart” and “I’ll never be good enough” and so I either shut down or attack in reply. A little more on that last bit later, but for now remember that you have control in how you channel your emotions to make an effective opinion.
(Self-reflection: Do you fall under the category of righteous anger, or entitled anger? https://medium.com/@sarahailemariam/righteous-anger-vs-entitled-anger-630c13b70986)
To paraphrase a little bit, intent matters. Do you want to prove you’re right, or do you want to share a perspective? Like many others, I’ve have to be mindful of stepping up to a false pedestal and believing my opinion is to “inform and educate*”. I’m not always right, and if I keep a wall up that doesn’t allow for other voices, then I’m acting on my own insecurities that will prevent any attainment of additional knowledge and wisdom. Instead, I’ve tried to shift the intent of my opinions to “offer a different perspective”. The other side of this coin is to “be open to other perspectives”, which includes using some empathy to see the other’s side. This does NOT mean you have to agree with them, it just means you have to listen and be open.
*If you are an expert or have truly done your homework, then this may be an okay intention.
To reiterate one more time, be brave enough to be wrong. I’ve been wrong plenty of times…I think a few years ago I posted an anti-vaccine article, and a friend (a professor knowledgeable in reading research studies) kindly but sternly pointed out the article was based on bad study (and I have hence very much changed my opinion). Even more recently (sadly) I told a friend that I thought every American should have the opportunity to see Mt. Rushmore…and I knew nothing about the history of the land. (When I saw it, I think I at least knew George Washington had slaves, but every teacher brushed it off because “everyone had slaves”.) (If you do go to visit Mt. Rushmore, at least visit the Crazy Horse Memorial as well). Being open-minded*, which I consider the opposite of being ignorant/ignoring other sources of information, and listening to the voices of others means you are willing to grow and be a better, smarter human.
(After Black Hills 100 in 2013, my then boyfriend and I went to visit Mount Rushmore. At the time, I had no idea that the land I was standing on was sacred that had been promised to the Sioux. The sign seems to be leaving “just a LITTLE” bit of history out.)
*Here are two recent, short videos from Rich Roll that includes more on this topic: Being open-minded vs. standing your ground: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkJJZV4bD7k Handling conflict: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8RC5-DrJuI
- When possible, do some research.
- Think for yourself/don’t use meme-logic.
- Control your emotions. Where do you want to put your energy?
- Consider your intention.
- Be brave: use your voice, get uncomfortable.
“Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.” ― Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Before I move on to raising your tolerance for dealing with negative people/ negative comments, let me remind you that you should first “do your own work.” Know what your own insecurities are and what triggers you. Know how you tend to respond in these situations. Start working on changing anything that you want to improve on. Again, this takes a willingness to be uncomfortable, which is also a key if we want to stand up the things we believe in.
[Here’s a little bit more on the topic with a passage from Robin DeAngelo in her book White Fragility: “Consequently, if we whites want to interrupt this system, we have to get racially uncomfortable and be willing to examine the effects of our racial engagement. This includes not indulging in whatever reactions we have-anger, defensiveness, self-pity, and so forth-in a given cross-racial encounter without first reflection on what is driving our reactions and how they will affect other people.” See her book for more great tips on how to give and receive different opinions.]
Alright, now I get to utilize my undergrad degree in social science and my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling to do some theorizing!
When I get annoyed/frustrated/angry/etc with someone who is commenting on my opinion who clearly just wants to argue, criticize, and just be mean, it helps me to lower my own annoyance by considering their humanness.
One of my theories is based on upbringing. Let’s say someone grew up in a chaotic home and when things were quiet, that meant something bad was going to happen/had happened (Mom was about to blow/Dad left home again). In adulthood, they live by the line “if things are going too well, that means something bad is going to happen”. In that case, chaos may actually feel comfortable for someone, and they may look for ways to create it (even if they don’t necessarily believe what they are saying). On the other hand, another person may have grown up in a home where things were relatively quiet and arguments were scary. This is probably the case for a good amount of us, if we consider divorce rates of baby boomers. “Mom and dad fought and they got a divorce.” Arguments feel unsafe, which is why many people will work up the courage to voice their opinion one time, get a negative comment, and then disappear from the conversation.
Following this are the stories we create based on things that have happened to us as kids. In some way, I work with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or narrative therapy with all my counseling clients because we all come with what I call “fictional stories” or made-up stories based on negative past experiences in childhood. “I’m not enough.” “I’m too much.” “I’m just not smart.” “I’m not worthy.” “I can’t trust anyone.” Then there’s the guilt and shame piece. This has been said many times before, but we live in a society that tells us mistakes and failures are bad. Mistakes and failures mean we are stupid and bad people (“I am bad.” “I am a failure.”) rather than opportunities to learn and grow. On top of that, I’m working with the “power myth”, that power means dominance. That type of power is based in fear and is laced with the stories above. True power is the ability to influence and be influenced (paraphrased from a lecture by Dewy Freeman). Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re working with when working with in conversation with negative-acting people and negative comments. Instead, we’re working with a need to be right, which almost automatically invokes defense mechanisms (denial, projection, repression, displacement, sublimation, etc) because no one wants to deal with the pain and weight of not feeling worthy or smart. This gets a little complicated here, because the person is always enough, worthy, and yes smart. But because they haven’t truly worked through their fictional story, they actually believe their non-fiction story of worthiness, so they’re protecting a false identity, or a shell, that is very fragile. (Hopefully that made sense!)
I say this all not to give you a comeback (“you’re just in denial because…” I promise, that won’t go over well) but to give you some understanding. Most of the time, when others attack, they’re not actually attacking you. When someone is in full-on defense mode, they’re not going to hear you, no matter how calm and informed your opinion is. This is where you save your energy and move on.
The last and probably obvious note to all this is that social media discussions very rarely lead to the changing of anyone’s mind. This doesn’t mean don’t share your opinion or leave a comment when someone is being unjust, just be mindful of where you put your energy. When change does happen, it’s most often through true human connection (albeit, I recognize that’s difficult during a pandemic), which is facilitated by honest listening.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” -Stephen R. Covey
I was going to give one more opinion with a reflective listening example, but this blog post went on a little bit longer than I expected and I promised Pacer we’d go for a walk like an hour ago, so instead I’ll leave you with one more quote, a favorite of mine:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. –Victor Frankl
I hope no one reading this knows what it’s like to have your freedom of speech taken away, but I know many of us have, even if not outright. I hope that we all invoke our freedom to listen. I hope that all of us enact our most foundational freedom, to choose your attitude and go forth to make the world a little smarter, a little more empathetic, and at the very least a little brighter.