It is more blessed to give than to receive – Jesus of Nazareth
I am seldom asked for advice or asked to express an opinion. I know, for instance, that when it comes to my sense of fashion, all my taste is in my mouth. If my wardrobe is at all coordinated, it is due to the good taste of my life-partner. Without her, I have no doubt I would mix checks with stripes, and goodness knows what wretched combination of colors I could come up with if left to my own devices.
However, times are changing and folks increasingly say they want my opinion. Some months back we became a “Nielsen” Family and got to share our television-viewing habits with the world. I presume that’s why your favorite shows have disappeared, and worse ones are airing to fill the void. I offer you my sincerest apologies.
I’ve also been receiving phone calls from researchers wanting to know my political views on things. Their stunned silence (at times) has suggested that perhaps my thoughts on such weighty matters are possibly skewed outside the group they’re working for, but that’s OK. I did a telephone survey one morning and that afternoon had another request for an interrogative poll. I told the poor soul I was limiting myself to one survey per day, and I am sure I left him holding the phone on his end with mouth wide open and a look of shock permanently frozen upon his face.
The fact is that I do have opinions, but have generally restricted myself to keeping most of them private. I learned early on that there are dog lovers, and there are cat lovers, and if one identifies with either group, one may become a pariah, viewed with deep suspicion by the other.
That has begun to change, however. As my bones have become more brittle, my perspective on matters has become more apparent and is sometimes expressed in a more prickly form. I am more prone to shoot off my mouth than ever before. It’s not that I want to place myself over and against anyone else; it’s just that there is more fatigue involved in holding one’s tongue. The muscle mass needed just isn’t there to support silence anymore.
That doesn’t mean I must become mean or cranky in expressing my mind (what little is left of it). It’s just that if there is discourse on some matter that affects me or the organizations and groups to which I belong, I don’t want folks to confuse my silence on such things with consent (Qui tacet consentit).
The challenge, of course, is in learning how to disagree without being disagreeable (as the old saw puts it). An old deaf couple were seen arguing one day and, like their hearing counterparts, as they got angrier, their gestures got bigger. Finally, one of them said to the other, “You don’t have to yell; I’m NOT blind!”
Anger, we’re told, is a secondary emotion. That means our anger is driven by something else – fear or shame, for instance. When your child runs into the street and nearly gets hit by a car, you scream at them in anger, because you’re scared out of your mind.
Sometimes, though, I think we scream because we want to show we mean business. “I’m mad as (heck), and I’m not going to take it!” thundered the character in the movie NETWORK.
I’ve come to learn, however, that one can express an opinion without getting angry or defensive if one realizes that it’s OK for everyone to have their own outlook on things. As one wag says, “Everyone’s got a right to be wrong. It’s not my job to change them or correct their perspective.”
The key, I think, is self-restraint. First of all, not everyone needs to know what I think or how I feel. Some folks have an insatiable appetite for speaking their mind. They have little or no self-restraint, and often evince that by then arguing every point with everyone. Their goal seems to be more to win than to learn.
That leads to the second point: conversation should be viewed and practiced as an opportunity to learn. When we value the experience, strength, and hope of our neighbor, we each win, and that’s a valuable commodity. Of course, that’s just my opinion in this, our valley.