In a world full of angst regarding being discriminatory, we have forgotten how to be discerning. Once in awhile we have to remember that it’s okay to say “Excuse me, but that’s bullshit.”
But shouldn’t we say “Excuse me, but in my opinion that’s bullshit?” This kind of “softener” phrase is very common in conversation, and it seems to me to be placed there as a constant reminder that truth is simply a matter of opinion (which I am here rejecting). Some will claim that this is simply there as a reminder that none of us is omniscient – but I don’t think so. If I say to someone, “Excuse me, but that’s bullshit,” it’s clear that this is my opinion. Why should I need to mention that? If it was someone else’s opinion, I’d probably say “Excuse me, but Bob thinks that that is bullshit.”
Almost weekly I have an exchange like the following with someone:
Me: X is the case.
Other: You mean in your opinion X is the case.
Me: Of course I mean in my opinion. Who else’s opinion would I be giving you? If I cite someone else’s opinion, I’ll be sure to give them credit.
I propose that we all assume that as reasonable people we recognize that any one of us can be wrong at any time, and that we stop wasting our breath on these softening phrases. They are useless utterances which are added to sentences because of our constant fear that we will say something with which someone else disagrees. If we stopped constantly worrying about each others irrational reactions and paid more attention to the matters at hand we would get further, faster, than we do now.
The reason that this has started to become a problem is that culturally we have allowed ourselves to identify our ideas and opinions too much with our self worth. If I attack a position that you hold, it is thought that I am also attacking you. We must learn to divorce our egos from our ideas – if someone else has a better idea, it doesn’t make them a better person. What makes someone a better person is, if they can see clearly that someone else has a better idea, then to have the strength of character to acknowledge it. The very best people are those who know and acknowledge a better idea when they see it.
If someone else has a better idea, it doesn’t make them a better person. What makes someone a better person is, if they can see clearly that someone else has a better idea, then to have the strength of character to acknowledge it.
This preoccupation with having one’s own idea be adopted is simply a play for power. Power is the ability to have your own way even if it’s clearly wrong. The best managers and leaders know that, though they may have power, it is best to wield good judgment. In the corporate world (even in the smallest of companies), politics is often more powerful than reason – but politics is simply the game of power and thus playing it is simply wasted energy.
Power is the ability to have your own way even if it’s clearly wrong.
This is not to say that being a good political player will not help you achieve your goal – if your goal is power – it is simply an objectively futile endeavor much will ultimately leave you unfulfilled. It is not the way to self actualization or enlightenment.
It is easy to forget that, originally, being discriminating was a good thing. To be discriminating was to know the good from the bad, the plastic from the real. Nowadays, this means engaging in prejudicial practices against people of a different race, sex, or economic background – no wonder we no longer see advertisements for a product which appeal to the “discriminating consumer.”
Luckily, English is a fairly redundant language and we can still use the word discerning to meaning “to perceive or recognize clearly.” Perhaps we need a national public interest ad campaign: Don’t discriminate – discern. Let’s start noting the difference between reasoned opinions and opinions based entirely on ignorance of the situation – such as interviewing people on the street asking them what they think of the Federal Reserve’s macroeconomic policy and taking polls to determine whether someone on trial for murder is guilty or innocent. If we held an election and decided that 2 + 2 = 5, the answer would still be 4 – unless we were willing to redefine every other symbol in standard mathematics. Majority opinion does not make something right – let us learn to discern.
Perhaps we need a national public interest ad campaign: Don’t discriminate – discern. Let us learn to discern.
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