When Is It the Better Part of Valor to Keep Your Mouth Shut?
Opinions abound on topics ranging from politics to religion, from relationships to climate change. Conversations no longer just happen around the water cooler at work. With the advent of social media, sharing those beliefs is as easy as tapping fingers on keyboard and pressing “post.”
There was a time when the “taboo subjects” of sex, religion, and death were simply not discussed in polite company. These days, the gloves are off and we go at it with gusto, daring to strike back at anyone who disagrees with our finely-honed perception of how life should be.
Trolls are part of the mucky mix of missives as well. Wikipedia defines a troll as “a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”
I do my best not to engage them, since it is a waste of time and almost always get my stomach in knots. Clearly not worth the effort because changing that person’s mind is unlikely. On the rare occasion when someone with this orientation shows up on my Facebook page, I show them the door. Although, I do admit, it is interesting to watch the interaction between them and others who frequent my “sandbox.”
I am not alone in carrying a worldview based on my upbringing and decisions I made as a result. The older I get, the more opinions I (and I daresay others) add to my backpack that I tote with me when I go out into the world, literally or in cyber-form. I do have rules to which I adhere, which includes:
- No name calling.
- No pigeon holing based on religion, culture, national origin, gender presentation, sexual orientation, skin color, socio-economic status or political party.
- When my buttons get pushed, I usually take a breath before responding, if at all.
- I ask myself the purpose of saying anything… do I want to be right and make the other person or people wrong? Do I want approval? Do I want to look like a smarty pants? Or do I want to offer a different perspective as food for thought? The third option feels the most soul satisfying.
That last one came into play as I “stepped in it” a few days ago.
Someone I don’t know very well asked me a question online. Apparently the question was just a joke, but I didn’t know that. I thought they were asking a serious question about whether to take a break in their drinking. I gave feedback based on my own lens as a therapist/addictions counselor responding with a button-pushing inquiry into their relationship with alcohol and how our culture glorifies drinking, explaining that for some, whose family and social gatherings always include alcohol, it is more challenging to abstain. I was on a roll, up on my soapbox.
This individual was offended, thinking that it gave the wrong impression about them. I took it behind the scenes, apologized and discussed it with them and we seem to understand each other’s perspective. That is how I prefer to handle disagreement — not out in a public venue. I sat with the experience for a day or so, feeling chastised and wishing I had made a different choice initially.
Lesson learned: It is the better part of valor not to respond.
I think about the Three Gates through which our words should pass before being expressed:
- Is it kind?
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary?
There are times when I am adept at passing all three of those tests and sometimes, like the most recent experience, I clearly am not.
The other piece of guidance to which this could be applied comes from Disney-wisdom, i.e., If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. My mother shared it with me long ago. Sometimes it has backfired, when I have allowed my co-dependent, people-pleasing persona take over. I would rather be diplomatic than “nice” in my communication. I consider how what I am about to say will be received. I question how it would land with me if someone else expressed the same opinion delivered in the same manner. Would I be offended? I also take into consideration family of origin patterns.
When I adamantly disagree with another person, I remind myself that if I lived that one’s life, had the interactions they did and developed the same world-view, I might make the same choices they did. It comes in handy when going head-to-head with someone whose values have them supporting a destructive, short-sighted system. It is admittedly hard not to demonize them when they stand for much that I oppose. There are times when I need to literally or figuratively clamp my hand over my mouth to avoid potentially damaging words to spew forth. Even this avowed pacifist has war-mongering thoughts. Making someone the enemy for seeing life through different lenses reinforces otherness, by which we view people with differing opinions as “not like us,” and therefore worthy of disdain and disrespect.
Being a considerate listener is part of the process. Being present with another as they share their story can lend itself to deeper understanding. Many of us, myself included at times, listen in order to respond. We may already be formulating what we want to say as the other person is talking. It is then that I need to redirect my attention to the human in front of me, on the phone or across the cyber-universe.
Weinstein, E. (2019). When Is It the Better Part of Valor to Keep Your Mouth Shut?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-is-it-the-better-part-of-valor-to-keep-your-mouth-shut/