At my last job, my favorite unofficial title was Chief Opinion Holder.
I’m not especially confident about most things, so I invoked it regularly. If I was asked to weigh in on a decision, one of two things happened: Either I said, “I don’t have strong feelings either way,” or I’d share my thoughts and then hurriedly add, “But remember—I’m just the Chief Opinion Holder.”
Translation: “You can’t hold me accountable for anything I just said, because I was sharing my opinion, not my expertise.”
The true, buried-deep-in-my-subconscious message behind my beloved title didn’t occur to me until relatively recently, and my Aha Moment was sponsored by, of all things, Facebook. Yes, Facebook–where I see hundreds of people writing vile, hateful, arrogant, cold-hearted, void-of-all-empathy status updates, often beginning or ending with the phrase in my humble opinion—as if such a disclaimer absolves the writer of all accountability for the effects of his or her shared “humble opinion” which, let’s be honest, is rarely actually humble and rather than being written in an opinion-ish sort of way is instead presented in an I’m-right-and-you’re-an-imbecile sort of way.
What are the kids saying these days? Oh yeah: I can’t even.
I’m abdicating my Chief Opinion Holder title right this very moment, because it’s nothing but a cop-out. I want you to hold me accountable to every word I’m about to write.
Here’s our reality: Horrible, awful, stomach-turning things are happening right now, and actual people are being affected. People with hearts and minds and worries and troubles and birthdays and families and preferences and perspectives and dreams and hopes and emotions and value and worth. Just like you and I have.
There is not a single issue about which we’re pontificating that’s easily solved. Not a one. The complexity of the problems plaguing our world–plaguing our neighborhoods–are like massive Jenga puzzles in which solving one problem creates 14 more, and we’ve managed to shove one another into these ridiculous either-or-shaped corners where we feel forced to say disgustingly dishonoring, devaluing, and dehumanizing things for the purpose of protecting our fragile egos because we’re so damn unwilling to say, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” Hell, most of us won’t even say, “That’s an interesting perspective. Let me think about that.” Wanna know why we don’t say that? Because it feels dangerous, so we busy ourselves formulating our defense instead of listening. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of humility.
If we listen, we might have to consider the reality that Kim Davis has worth and courage and integrity and so does the same-sex couple standing in front of her–regardless of our own convictions and our own definitions of right and wrong.
If we have real, thoughtful conversations we might have to concede that #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter are not antonyms.
If we listen—really listen, rather than just seeking information that validates the opinions we already hold—we might discover that it’s entirely possible for Planned Parenthood to be doing incredible good and have some questionable practices worth investigating.
If we’re willing to even try to understand another’s point of view, it might dawn on us that transgender people aren’t just trying to trick their way into the opposite gender’s bathroom and that it’s not quite as simple—as much as LGBTQIA advocates want it to be—as,”Well, if she says she identifies as female, she gets to use the female locker room.”
If we stop arguing for just a moment, we might realize that, in many ways, we’re being pitted against one another by a media empire whose very survival depends on the if-it-bleeds-it-leads principle and we depend on that same industry to help us understand—and even influence—what’s happening around us.
If we stop and take a deep breath before we open our mouths, we might remember that when we say nasty things about a group of people, we’re quite likely unknowingly talking to someone in that group–or, at the very least, to people who care deeply about someone in that group.
If we all put away our bullhorns and soapboxes, we might come to understand that my experience–which is different from your experience–doesn’t make either of our experiences “wrong.” And oh my goodness, what might happen if we stop othering one another?
Let’s try an experiment. Sometime in the next week, have a conversation with someone who has a different opinion about something—anything. Start small, if you have to: You can talk about Arby’s v. Lion’s Choice for all I care. Just intentionally find a point of disagreement and see if you can drop yourself into the other person’s perspective for a minute or two. And remember, you don’t have to agree with an opinion to affirm it.
“Oh, I think I see it now. The type of bun really matters to you, and you have a tough time with those onion buns at Arby’s. I’m not exactly sure how that feels, but I can tell it’s a big deal for you.”
Yes, okay: That’s a ridiculous example. Just try it, and let me know how it goes, mkay?
And if you ever, ever hear, “in my humble opinion” come outta my mouth, stuff an onion bun in there, would ya?