Opinion Responsibility

I’ve already touched on the worst extreme of opinions online because of the issue of trolling. But, what about normal day-to-day communication, writing, and commenting? Just because something we say isn’t over-the-top rude doesn’t necessarily make it any less harmful.

The internet is full of misinformation, misleading headlines, implications, inferences, scandalous tones, and so on. It’s easy to make bold statements and accusations when you don’t ever have to be face-to-face with real people. I take opinion responsibility very seriously. While I think we could all do better to be diplomatic by preceding our opinions with words like “I think”, “in my opinion”, “apparently”, “allegedly”, etc., to avoid something sounding like a statement of fact, that’s easier said than done.

I’m a real human being, my name is Bryan Hadaway, this is BryanHadaway.com, clearly a personal blog. While I certainly hope my readers have confidence in my credibility, I would also hope that it would be obvious that this is not an authoritative site by any means and as BryanHadaway.com, it’s clear that any and all things I share are opinion and observation, by me, one person, an individual, based on my experiences.

But, that brings us to another issue of opinion responsibility, assuming that people will understand and interpret things exactly as we meant them. If you’re a human being and have ever communicated with another human being, you know that’s a very dumb assumption. While diplomacy is important and I often update my articles over and over to better phrase things to be clearer, friendlier, and more accurate, you’re always going to miss something and you’re always going to offend someone, somehow, no matter how trivial.

That, and the fact that sometimes it destroys the flow of natural writing to proofread and water down your writing too much. Sometimes, things just need to be said, as long as you’re being honest and not lying, spinning a story, or being exploitative. To help deal with this, I try to add preambles or disclaimers where appropriate.

No matter what though, if you speak your mind, through whatever medium, whether you’re right or wrong, you’re going to rub someone the wrong way, at some point. As long as you stand by what you say and it’s accurate to the best of your knowledge and delivered in a civil, polite manner and with at least a somewhat diplomatic approach, it’s never a weakness to speak your mind, don’t worry about those who will disagree with or even attack you. Which brings me to my next point.

Disagreement is not a bad thing. Have you ever met anyone that agrees with everything you say? It can actually become frustrating. You might want to just shake them and say “What do you really think!?” Because disagreement is a very important and constructive part of communication. Without it, it’s very difficult to be productive.

The problem is that a lot (and by a lot, I mean most) of people are very sensitive and very quick to interpret a disagreement as an argument or a personal attack. They feel that it’s an attack on their intelligence or worth to possibly be wrong about something. A lot of people feel such strong negative energy over someone disagreeing with them that it’s almost as bad or worse than name-calling (in their mind).

I remember riding with a friend once and they remarked on the paint job of a nearby truck: “Oh look at that paint, that’s a pretty cool shade of green, huh?” I responded: “Yeah, and it kind of looks blue the way the sun hits it.” They instantly became tense (you’d think I insulted their mother) “Uh, no, you’re wrong. You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about and I know way more about paint than you do.” I didn’t even respond, I just changed the subject.

I’m not going to go diving into the psychology of what makes some people so easily offended, I’m just going to acknowledge that it exists to these kinds of extremes so you can’t beat yourself up over offending some people when no offense was meant, it’s unavoidable. And on the other side of the coin, don’t be the guy that loses their cool and blows up on someone.

It really is unacceptable to be rude to someone just because they don’t agree with you and yet there’s quite a large amount of tolerance for it on the internet. You’ll even see a lot of upvoting for the best rude personal attacks (think YouTube). Being rude, sarcastic, and throwing in personal attacks is a sign of weakness and we should discredit anything anyone has to say when done in this manner and not praised.

It is more difficult to be thoughtful and polite as it’s more difficult to be a good and kind person, but if you have a respectable point that should even be heard in the first place, it can be done.

So please, communicate opinions responsibly.