October 20, 2019 A Religious and Political Commentary

Individual opinions have become offensive to others

It is said, “Everyone has an opinion.”  In America, we take this one step further: “Everyone is entitled to an opinion.”  Americans have a rich history of sharing opinions with each other. From the letters of Silence Dogood, to the editorial page of today’s newspaper, the free and sometimes testy exchange of ideas has always been a favorite American pastime.

The sharing and debating of opinions is an important aspect of the learning process of humans. Milton said:

“Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making (Areopagitica).”

In fact, the whole idea of opinion is centered on the idea of debate. And its important position in American life mirrors the value of free speech ensconced in our Constitution.  The word “opinion” has a direct etymological link to “option” – to choose or prefer.  One opinion is considered and weighed against another…much like one option is compared to another. In theory, after careful consideration, we adopt the best opinion just as we would choose the best option. America has bettered herself by considering the positions of others.

But things have changed. “Everyone is entitled to an opinion” has become “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.” Someone said that 2015 was the year everyone got offended.  I’m not sure of the date, but I have noticed “free speech areas,” trigger warnings, safe places, feelings over facts, buzzwords (lots of phobias), and perhaps a few too many service animals of late. The number of blogs is prodigious and growing daily. If you hold certain opinions, you are shouted down, shut out, or asked to leave the restaurant.

Another interesting change is the insertion of opinion in the news media.  What sets Silence Dogood and those op-ed columns apart from the rest of the news is the fact that they clearly and intentionally express opinion.  News reports, on the other hand, are intended to be neutral in perspective…Joe Friday’s “just the facts ma’am.”

Of course, neutrality isn’t easy and a tabula rasa isn’t a possibility…but for years journalists strove heroically to remain neutral.  I remember the hours spent in Mrs. Hayes English class at DHS learning to read the newspaper, comparing opinion and fact. Voice, mood, word choices, included facts, omitted facts, ellipsis points – these are all clues to the writer’s opinion. Is the writer reporting or leading? I still follow her method reading the newspaper today.  The only difference: Opinions have moved from the last page to the front page.

Why? King David might say: “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin (Psalm 36:2).”  The Apostle Paul would add: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy… (2 Timothy 3:1-2).” In our self-flattery and love of self, we all want our opinions known – even reporters.

It reminds me of Narcissus from Greek mythology.  He was known for his beauty – the son of a god and a nymph, he had much of which to be proud.  A prophet told his mother before his birth that he would have a long life, provided he never saw himself.  But alas, at the lakeshore one day, he saw his reflection.  He fell in love with what he saw and pined away at the water’s edge until he eventually died.  Springing up in his place was the flower that now bears his name.

Something else bears his name, too. Freud coined the term narcissism to describe an exaggerated self-esteem or self-involvement related to emotional immaturity. And don’t you see that all around today?  Spend five minutes on social media, eavesdropping on the arguments.  Tweet your opinion about disciplining a child or border management and see what happens.  I’ve had bumper stickers removed from my truck and folks have been known to booby-trap political yard signs to keep them from being stolen. Oh, and watch what you wear to Whataburger!

In the world of the self-absorbed, my opinion is what matters.  You need to hear it. And in the process, I shouldn’t have to be subjected to yours.

What does God say about this? First, we should respect the opinion of others.  If it differs from our own, it shouldn’t make us angry or out of sorts.  It’s OK for people to be wrong…who knows, I may be wrong myself. “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:19-20).”

And ask yourself: “Why do I feel the need to opine on this topic? What’s so important about my opinion that it must be shared?”

A friend reminded me of one of my favorite verses the other day.  He noted that he’s never heard this passage described as anyone’s “life verse.”  And he’s never seen the verse tattooed on someone’s arm: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you… (1 Thessalonians 4:11).”

Imagine if our ambition was to lead quiet and peaceful lives, doing our jobs, and minding our own business! Apparently, not everyone needs to hear my opinion. It may not be worth sharing.

If Paul isn’t your cup of tea, how about Will Rogers:

“After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good, he started roaring. He kept it up, until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.”

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