I was talking with a friend recently about something a mutual friend had said. It was an opinion that was shared, and some people viewed the opinion as harsh, and some thought it was right on and not harsh at all (I think it was probably somewhere in between). The friend I was speaking with fell into the ‘thought it was harsh’ category, and made a statement to the effect of “I try to never say something that will hurt someone else.”My first thought was well, of course! I’d hope that’s the case. I’d hope that all the people I choose to spend time with have the same mentality. They may not always be successful, but I would hope that they at the very least would not be trying to hurt someone. But then I thought about it a little bit more, and I realized I wasn’t entirely sure if a) that’s a motto one could live by and b) that’s a motto one SHOULD live by. To be clear: I loathe the “I don’t care what other people think, I’m going to tell it like it is” attitude. I find it to be extremely immature. First, the “like it is” is so rarely connected to reality. It’s nearly aways an opinion, not a fact, and something the speaker with that attitude hides behind in an attempt to justify a really poor attitude. Second, it shows such a profound lack of caring for others. Sure, there are plenty of people who do not care about others, and I suppose it is handy to have a little shorthand to determine who those people are, but frankly I’d rather they just learn to act in less of a childish manner. I also (usually; I have to admit I have my weaknesses) see no point in being so blunt with a comment as to act in a jerky manner if there is a way to phrase something so that it still honest but not rude. “I prefer the red dress to the blue one – it seem to flatter your figure more” is both true and kind; “the blue dress makes you look fat,” while possibly true, is not kind. Even though the former comment is both true and kind, it still might cause hurt feelings. The wearer might not have thought the blue dress was unflattering. Perhaps they are being too sensitive, but at least in that type of one-on-one interaction it’s pretty easy to read the situation and determine how to go forward. But sometimes that isn’t possible, or isn’t practical, like in some social media situations, where one’s opinion possibly is going to be read by a few dozen folks, some of whom are likely to disagree. Is there a point at which one’s opinion may, simply by virtue of it existing, hurt others? And not because it’s necessarily a bad opinion, or a wrong opinion, but merely because it exists? In that case, are people expected to never mention it for fear of it causing pain for another person? Two examples are religious and political beliefs. I recognize that religion and politics are things that some people choose to never discuss outside of their very close friends; however, I find politics and public policy to be interesting and a crucial part of my life existence, so it seems almost disingenuous for me to simple pretend that I don’t have opinions on them. I enjoy having a blog (which links to various social media), and I enjoy using it to think through issues and (if I’m lucky) hear the opinions of others. But I may have opinions that, if others think them through, could be viewed as hurtful.
For example, during the Komen Foundation / Planned Parenthood incident that occurred at the beginning of the month, I posted a link and expressed my support of Planned Parenthood. But is that hurtful to others who support Komen? Is it disrespectful? I can hear people saying “you can’t worry about all that all the time,” and yet is does seem that plenty of reasonable, rational folks do find such things potentially offensive. I don’t want to censor myself, and I really enjoy good discussions, but I also don’t want to be an asshole.Hmmm.