Sunday, June 24, 2018

The value of collectively shutting up

My generation grew up with the quote 'Silence is golden'. And my mother also used to say, 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'. Another stellar quote, in my opinion. We were encouraged not to open our mouths on all occasions as young adults, and as children, we were strictly instructed not to. Overall, we were raised to not talk back to our parents or elders. The key word was respect. We were taught to respect our parents and/or elders whether we liked it or not, and whether or not they actually deserved it. When I was around twelve years old, I began to understand that not all adults deserved my respect. But I didn't tell them that to their faces. I simply tried to avoid having anything to do with them whenever possible, which was not always easy. But not always opening my mouth to tell people what I thought--of them or about specific issues--was valuable training. 'Think before you speak' was one of those quotes that took root in my brain from very early on. I learn to be a bit wary of people who were quick to tell you their opinions, who were quick to judge others, who were quick to shift their opinions, and who tended to dominate with their opinions.

But back to the first two quotes. The world appears to have forgotten their value. Every time we turn around, some pundit is telling us what he or she thinks. The media and just about everyone else have an opinion about everything. Everyone is an expert on just about everything. I respect those people who when asked for their opinion, are honest and say they don't have one, or that they don't know enough about the situation to have a conclusive opinion, or something along those lines. I also respect those people who take their time in answering a question about how they think or feel about something. I fall into the latter group--someone who doesn't always have a ready answer or an immediate opinion, someone who needs to retreat into herself in order to think about what she really thinks and feels about a specific situation. I would say that my opinions about things are for the most part well-reasoned. I don't tend to 'open my mouth and insert foot'. I like working with and associating with people who are not quick to open their mouths with their opinions about everything under the sun. Modern workplaces encourage employees to brainstorm. It's all well and good, but again, the opinionated people tend to dominate. Those who wish to think about a specific issue, or who need time to do so, do not. In the world at large, it's the brash and the aggressive people who dominate in the media. Turn on the TV news, and there's another story about Trump--always larger than life, and who never shuts his mouth. After a while, you lose interest. Everything is drama, over-the-top drama. Everything is a crisis, except that it's not. The crises are Trump-made, and he uses them for all they are worth. He incites his followers, many of whom adopt his opinions uncritically. Trump is one example; the media generally are another example of those who never shut their mouths. They are paid to keep talking, to keep spouting the same story, the same rhetoric, over and over. I miss the days when I sat with my father on a Sunday afternoon and watched 'Meet the Press' with him. The debates were interesting; it was possible to listen to reasoned opinions from both political sides without name-calling, harassment, degradation or embarrassing situations. I don't want a world where the press is muzzled; I would appreciate a press that used more time on figuring out what is worth reporting and how to do so. Not everything is interesting, nor does absolutely everything need to be dissected ad nauseam.

I think we need to take a break from talking all the time. We need some silence. We need time to evaluate whether the opinions we are spouting are well-reasoned, and whether they are really our opinions or the opinions of media and political pundits. The world would benefit from a 'collective shut up', e.g. one day a week. We could use that day to digest the news and current events; we could figure out what we really want from our politicians and from the media. Or we could just 'enjoy the silence' as Depeche Mode sings. Whatever we use the day for, it's got to be a better use of our time than being the passive recipients of a constant bombardment of others' opinions. It may even help us to learn to better communicate. Because when we are constantly being bombarded, we lose our footing and we end up adrift. We end up irritated, confused, and even angry--angry at those people and situations that are constantly destroying our peace of soul and peace of mind. That cannot lead to anything good.

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