Opinions and Identity

Today I realized that sometimes it’s ok to not voice my opinions.  That sometimes, it’s more helpful to just listen, even when stating opinions doesn’t seem to be directly harmful. 

In church last week, one of the “applications” of the lesson that day was to be “careful about forcefully inserting our opinions into most conversations.”  Val, the pastor giving the sermon, shared the insight that in this region of the country, people are often mistaken to be whatever we think or whatever opinions we state.  Having a strong opinion is often lauded, and in fact, expected.  People sometimes look upon people who do not participate by loudly stating their opionions, as less intelligent, callous, or otherwise uninteresting.  At the time, that piece of the message did not really connect for me; I was focused on some of the broader applications such as “forgo judgment” and “be quick to say you’re sorry.” 

Today in the graduate course I’m taking, I realized I was judging some of the other students for not joining in on a debated topic.  Our professor seems to enjoy throwing out controversial topics and seeing where it takes us.  As a child of my father’s (and a child who grew up in the Netherlands), I have become well-versed in these types of conversations and am quite comfortable taking a side on an issue.  This doesn’t mean that I’m married to that opinion, it’s just a way of responding.  Another way of responding was demonstrated today in class – with some people not participating unless they were specifically asked for their thought on the matter.  Our professor wasn’t particularly inclined, so during lunch I realized that five of us were debating these topics, while 15 others (many more knowledgable than us who were speaking!) quietly sat and listened.  And for this, I judged them and grew frustrated.  After all, I wanted to learn from them!  Why couldn’t they see this?! 

During my lunchbreak walk I realized that perhaps I should be keeping my opinions a little less strong, and instead ask the other students what their thoughts are.  Asking thoughtful, open-ended questions has always gotten me to answers and great conversations around topics where I realize I want to learn more.  What was the purpose of my opinions today?  It was to show that I knew what I was talking about.  Hm… that doesn’t sit so well. 

I realized I’ve been doing the same on this blog, and it’s actually because I read it somewhere!  Some site that teaches you how to get more traffic to your blog… It actually said “make strong statements, have strong opinions.”  The theory is that this invites comments and counter-arguments, and we can learn.  However, I now think that is an extremely cultural thing, and that I’m just as likely to alienate people as to “invite” them when I make strong statements.  Some things are worth my strong statements, but some are not.  So be ready for more posts that raise more questions, more posts that include a direct invitation for dialogue on an issue, on a topic.  I have always been open to other views, but some folks operate culturally differently and less confrontational.  I learned that with my coworkers, and now I’m learning it with classmates and the blogosphere. 

What works best for you?  A strong statement that gets you riled up and ready to jump in with an objecting comment?  Or an invitation for comment, for thoughts, for other ideas and experiences?  Or am I still missing pieces of this picture? 

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