The ability, or rather, the willingness to share an opinion whenever the mood strikes is either a biological inheritance or a learned trait, or perhaps a combination of both. I’m not really sure since I grew up in a house full of opinions that were freely shared.
And so that tendency was passed down to me, for better or for worse.
For better in the sense that it led to a career as a journalist, a columnist, an author — all of which have suited my career path well.
For worse whenever it becomes necessary to remove my foot from my mouth.
The spewing of opinions can be dangerous or, at the very least, embarrassing and undignified. I have learned this the hard way. It only takes one proclamation of a movie’s worthlessness to offend someone who thought it was the most touching piece of cinematography of all time. Like getting hit over the head with a mallet, it sometimes takes the obvious to recognize when an opinion should have been swallowed instead of served at a buffet for all to sample.
It seems that I still haven’t learned this lesson quite well enough. It was just a few short months ago that I met the fiancé of a friend/business associate who was to be married in the summer of ‘09. Young, or at least much younger than my middle age, she had the perfect wedding planned for her and her betrothed.
Having been married some 23 1/2 years, my image of a wedding and her image of a wedding were diametrically opposed. Her image, of course, was that it was the most important day of her life. My image, with nearly a quarter of a century of marriage under my belt, was that it was an important day, but there was certainly a better way to spend one’s money than to dump it into an extravagant wedding when some of that would be better spent on a down payment on a house or anything more significant than a day that would come and go in a heartbeat.
I reached out for the words, but it was too late. They had escaped from my mouth, and I couldn’t get them back. I thought I was diplomatic and actually providing a bit of wisdom from my experiences. But the look on her face said otherwise. I closed my eyes, buried my head in my hand and cursed myself for yet another opinion gone awry.
It’s funny how we get an education to gather knowledge, to learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise known, and to arm ourselves with the equipment needed to be a success in life. We spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on an education and still come away dumber than a box of rocks.
All the knowledge in the world doesn’t help much without tact, good judgment, and a nod to what someone might find offensive or inappropriate. That’s not to say that we should go around always trying to say things to please people. There are those in our lives, particularly loved ones, who sometimes need to hear things that aren’t particularly pleasant but are for their own good.
Usually, our interactions with other people require a certain amount of finesse, a look at what that person’s perspective may be.
Our opinion often is not a matter of right or wrong, or knowledge over a lack of knowledge, but rather, perspective. No one can expect others to look at things exactly the way you do, any more than you can look at things the way that person does.
So I find myself prefacing comments I make these days with “in my opinion,” or “I can see why you would think that way.” After all, isn’t it much better to stop and consider someone else’s perspective rather than immediately judging or thinking the worst of that person?
I have an old friend who had acquaintances within all the various cliques in high school, and when we go to our reunions, he has something to talk about with everyone that returns.
So I complimented him on what a good listener he had always been, and asked him how he, who had come from a fairly affluent background, had mixed so well with so many different groups.
I’m paraphrasing his response, but it went something like this: “Because everyone has a different perspective, and I always thought I could learn something from them that I didn’t understand.”
What a beautiful way to look at other people, and what a great way to be more accepting of others’ opinions, whether they coincide with yours or not.
So I’m working on buttoning up some of those opinions, although I sometimes still bite my tongue a split second too late. Everyone is entitled to think whatever he or she wants to think … in my opinion, of course.
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