Friday, March 06, 2015

Tempering Opinions with Compassion OR What Color is This Dress? #bravewriting

Have you ever been asked for your honest opinion? This happened the other day and I immediately
started sweating, then backed away slowly. Why? Because been there, done that. Yeah. Ahem. Seriously? I want to keep my friends, not piss them off. Besides, there are tons of political correct police out there looking for some reason to burn me at the stake for merely expressing my opinion.

It's gotten to the point that I think real debate has stopped all together. We're either screaming at each other in all caps on Facebook, calling each other names, or if you're like me, quietly scrolling by without sharing your opinion.

But I don't like being quiet. That's not how problems get solved. That's not how real debate happens. So I'm learning to cowgirl-up and participate in public debate without getting caught up in high emotional states that derail the discussion. What I have learned very quickly in this hyper-sensitive, every-body-is-offended-by-something age is that I have to temper my opinion with compassion.

Why? Why not just "say it like it is" and stop "pussy-footing around"? Because I’ve also learned that so-called brutal honesty is rarely effective. Actually, it never is. Most people will focus on the resulting pain or anger of our differing opinion for far too long, missing the opportunity to glean anything useful from it. Some people will avoid our words at all costs and some people will go on a social media campaign designed to take us down. Trolling, anyone?

Ever stumble across someone’s tirade on social media and found yourself scrolling away as quickly as possible? Or are you the type who smirks and settles in for a good flame session debate? Have you ever felt your neck get hot and found yourself typing madly away on your phone to set them straight? Did you delete it? Ahahahahha! I certainly have done that.

But you know what? Nothing productive can come from any of those actions, except maybe to let off steam. I have to admit writing my tirade does help to some extent, as long as I delete. If I post it, I immediately go into high anxiety mode. I know it's not everyone's keep of tea, but it would be much so better if we jogged a mile to work through our stress than to act like jackasses in public, putting other's down and generally slinging poo.

So what do we do when a friend asks for an honest opinion these days? I'm using an old Sufi saying that I printed and posted on my fridge as my guide.

“Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:

At the first gate, ask yourself is it true?

At the second, ask yourself is it helpful?

At the third gate, ask yourself is it kind?"

We can debate what true, helpful, and kind really means, but the gist of it is to avoid violent opinionating, which helps no one. 

If we're honest about it, we’ve probably never been convinced to change our mind by being bludgeoned with another’s opinion, so we shouldn't expect anyone to come to the dark our side after being beaten bloody by our words. Keep in mind our ideas are merely opinions, no matter how well researched. Yet, we often act as if our “truth” is somehow empirical. Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.

I don’t care what facts we think we have backing our opinions (do you know there are 'studies' out there supporting whatever stance we want to take on just about any issue?), there is always room for debate. I mean, for goodness sake, we can even argue over the color of the sky…or the color of a dress in an online picture. ;-)

So how do we resolve the "is it true?" question if much rests on the shoulders of point of view? Do some research. Be aware that we tend to gravitate toward studies and articles that support our opinion. We have to make ourselves dig deeper. We have to look for the studies that contradict our favorite studies and pet opinions. Be brave enough to look at all angles. How about considering a few good ideas rather than marrying a belief? Beliefs tend to lead to conflict. Good ideas tend to lead to open dialogue.

What else can we do to unearth the truth? Get our news from different sources. Avoid labeling an information source as "left", "right", "conservative", or "liberal", but do be aware that nothing written, filmed, or spoken is unbiased. Ever. Acknowledge that the truth is usually the tiny, tiny kernel that all sources can agree on. The rest? Opinion at best; propaganda at worst.

What about the helpful question? I think this means our words should contribute in a positive way, not a contaminating one. Contributing opinions come from an objective, constructive, considerate place; contaminating opinions are egotistical, judgement calls that might even intend to belittle, or worse. For example:

Contributing opinion: “I think we should not increase funding for public education without first having third party unbiased studies done on the effectiveness of the current curriculum."

Contaminating opinion: “Throwing money at a broken system is stupid and wasteful."

See the difference?

And what is kind? I think that means we should always be respectful and compassionate when communicating our opinions. There is another human being at the other end of our slings and arrows. They bleed; they have feelings; their wife is leaving them; their boyfriend just found out he has cancer; their kids are screaming and climbing all over them right this second. 

In the heat of debate it is too easy to dismiss the humanness of those who disagree with us. It's easy to resort to name-calling: stupid, ignorant, uneducated, selfish, evil, heartless, and so on. It's easy because its the basest, oldest part of human nature. So being kind requires we hold ourselves to a much higher, more evolved standard. 

Sooooo, what do you think? Can we start to debate from a more respectful, honest place? Or am I full of crap?

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