In spite of the title you’ve just read, I am not actually about to praise having no opinions. I am trying to make an obvious point, namely, that I think you clicked on this article because you are used to seeing opinion headlines taking extreme viewpoints, and that extreme viewpoints are more appealing. Absolutism and extremity are always more intriguing than balanced, tentative statements. Most of us will instinctively reach for the drama, the powerful statement, the Thing That Stands Out.
Although perfectly natural, this worries me. It worries me because our society and the media, as its extension, end up prizing polarised opinions, as stronger or more valid, perhaps simply by rendering them louder, more present opinions. We give extremities a louder voice, and greater power.
No journalist will be commissioned to write an article titled ‘It All Depends’ when writing a political opinion piece. But I’m not just talking about politics. I’m talking about that part of your brain that decides what you think, or suggests to you that you are uncertain. I’m saying we are maybe letting ourselves be conditioned into, or at least desensitised to the process of automatically assuming absolutist positions.
I remember going to a youth conference when I was fourteen. We sat in a circle and were given ‘contentious’ topics to discuss. Mostly, I remember myself being greatly taken aback by the force of some people’s opinions.
I became paralyzingly aware that I did not know what I thought about many of these issues. I saw the merits of both sides, the flaws of both, but sat there speechless, retreating into silence, feeling like I didn’t know enough and wasn’t qualified to pronounce judgement. I was more shocked at break time, when I heard one of these fiercely aggressive people tell their friend that they didn’t actually believe what they were arguing but were doing it ‘just for the fun of it’. Which seemed to be the case, actually, with a lot of the people who surrounded me.
I became paralyzingly aware that I did not know what I thought about many of these issues.
My point is that a lot of the debate I am seeing currently, in the media and on places like Twitter, seems to be so deeply polarised and violently absolutist, that it reminds me very much of this debate I watched, mouth gaping, at age fourteen. And it makes me wonder whether people are simply putting themselves into imaginary opposing camps and shouting at each other to no effect and for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of causes are worth championing; I am referring to people’s zones of uncertainty.
For example: I am 100% not a Brexit fan. And I consider it reasonable that Brexit will lead to trouble in food imports, transit, whatever, in Britain. So I also think it within reason, using my basic logic, that Brexit could potentially lead to food shortages of certain foods. I do not think people in Britain will die of starvation. I am also not a food scientist or a trade expert and have no idea how Brexit will impact food imports. So I refuse, simply, to retweet, to repeat, to believe casual remarks, declarations, retweets made by people as uninformed as me about subjects we all know no facts about. I am simply not sure how things stand.
So, dear people like me – somewhat confused and feeling like you haven’t got enough information: get more information, if you can, and/or simply own up to your uncertainty. In the years since said conference, I’ve realised (rather unremarkably, perhaps) that it is much better to hold back than profess to know what you inwardly do not. Not knowing what you believe is not a crime. We are still young and have so much time to figure things out. If you don’t know where your beliefs lie on the political spectrum, that’s fine. If you don’t feel certain that you agree with either side of a debate, that’s fine. If you aren’t interested in a debate, that’s fine. Just stay out of it if you have any of these feelings.
It is much better to hold back than profess to know what you inwardly do not.
I fear that mindlessly retweeting or repeating the violent opinions of others (enraging as they may seem at first) rather than trusting the vague confusion in my gut, would lead me to adopt positions I can’t fully justify to myself, politically or otherwise. So, in this sense, I am here to praise not having opinions, taking your time, holding back, examining the facts or simply your gut feeling. Ask yourself how much you really know about things. If people ask, say ‘I’m not sure’. That’s all. Don’t be another voice feeding the world ignorant opinions. Shrug them off, take your time, and, in the meantime, vote as close to your heart as you possibly can. The world moves fast, but you don’t have to.
Featured image: UK Parliament via Flickr and Creative Commons