During the early 1990s, the principal of the Lower School at Marsden–a horrible private girls’ school to which I was forcibly sent for eight painful years–was a woman called Mrs Leach. I remembered her insulting a girl in my class once for “only ever looking out for number one” and not considering others, and then (it could not have been more than a week later) berating someone else for not minding her own business. “Look out for number one!” she had shrieked in front of the entire school assembly. Even at the age of nine I had been able to see the condradiction. I wasn’t sure, however, in which instance she had been right.
At twenty-five, I think she was right the second time.
One needn’t be consistently loud in order to maintain an independent, intelligent opinion. Quite a few people appear to believe that if one does not make one’s opinion (especially one’s disagreements) luridly clear in public, whenever possible, that one must be an agreeable “sheep”, or perhaps have no opinion at all.
Routinely, I disagree with people I respect. I disagree with people I love. I’ve had differing opinions on swimming with my father, and I regard him as the best coach I’ve ever had. My ideas on the limits of acceptable SEO practices sometimes differ from those of Kate Morris and Rob Kerry, both of whom are highly competent professionals. Some time around the last U.S. presidential election, I realised how pointless and damaging it was to regard party politics as important when it came to my friends.
However, most importantly, I learned that it’s not polite, nor necessary, to point out disagreements in public, as if crudely spray-painting them on a conveniently located wall, especially if the person with whom one disagrees is a respected friend. The point at which I knew this to be true was when a good friend of mine left a snide comment on something I cared about… the opinion was valid, but its public nature and unpleasant tone made me wish we were more private and respectful with our opinions when the subjects are close to us. We all have email accounts, telephones and even local pubs in which to maintain rational relationships and debates. Why must being quiet equate to being devoid of independence?
Of late, I can only recall publicly disagreeing with someone once. I don’t even find it satisfying. Even the following private messages–some from strangers–who agreed with me, didn’t really matter. I could have held as true to my beliefs if I’d maintained my silence, and in the end, I didn’t change anything.
Be polite and respectful both in public and private. Because I avoid publicly humiliating people I care about, it doesn’t mean I think they’re always right. Most of you appear to have let your Twitter accounts and blogs, and the comment section of other people’s websites, convince you that a person’s silence equates to the lack of an opinion, especially one of dissent.
And ponder this beautiful irony (one of many stumbled across of late). On each side of every debate, every clique, every disagreement and every set of beliefs, people claim that their opposing numbers are drinking the opposing team’s Kool-Aid. Next time it seems apt to accuse somebody of such consumption, consider whether the problem is actually that the person isn’t drinking yours.