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Have an opinion? No, thanks! I'm OK.

I realise the irony of this post’s title considering that a personal blog is not much more than a narcissistic podium of opinion and idea self-expressions. BUT the big difference is, many of my readers don’t know me and all of my readers can choose whether or not to take a single word written here seriously. They can, if they so wish, take it all with a massive pinch of salt. Or they can, if they so wish, take it from whence it comes. So allow me a moment to share an opinion on opinions.


Most of the time, your opinion is a waste of energy.




Well, no matter what you think, the person is going to do it anyway.


There is the occasional exception to this rule and that is when the opinion is actually asked for. A young mother asking her own mother for advice, well, that opinion will count. A girlfriend asking her bff for advice on an outfit, that opinion will count too. A new home owner consulting a professional in decorating/building/painting/renovating/plumbing for a decorating/building/painting/plumbing problem, is asking for an opinion that will almost assuredly mean something.


But when it comes to sitting around a dinner table getting all worked up about what the Jones’ have done to their house – as a group of nattering, wine fuelled neighbours, well. That opinion is unwarranted and counts for nought.  As Franklin D. Rooseveldt said, “There are as many opinions as there are experts.”


Every mother would have experienced this. You're shopping for your weekly groceries. Baby/toddler is in the trolley and on the verge of a melt down. They’ve done so well to withstand the hour or so of endless aisles of detergents and flour. Finally, when you’re in the queue, they seem to get a little difficult. You reach over and hand a bag of crisps* (*insert your own necessary evil here) and your child is pacified. Instant calm. You breathe a giant sigh of relief and move one step closer to the till. It is in that moment that the old lady standing behind you tells you that your child is too young to eat such junk and in ‘her day’ they were never allowed any salt until they were ten. You smile politely and think, What do you know? You silly old cow! Baby/toddler continues munching happily while your blood slowly boils over.


In the last week I've had people tell me that its time I stop breastfeeding, I should make my hair blonder, that my toddler needs to ditch the dummy, that I don’t feed my kids enough, that my kids eat too much protein, that the school my toddler is enrolled in is not the best for her, that the school my toddler is enrolled in is the best for her. And those are just the small things. Those are just the ones from people who were giving unsolicited advice. It’s exhausting. And there’s not a damn thing we can do about this.


At a point, with my first child, I was considering getting onesies printed with a slogan like, “My Mom is doing a Great Job. Please keep your advice to yourself.” But just last week, I saw similar onesies online. About time. And no, I never got around to doing it myself. I was too busy getting bombarded with opinions and ideas and discerning which were worth listening to and which needed to be expunged immediately for the drivel they were.


I fall prey to this opinionated advice giving all the time. Often in the absence of the people for whom the advice is intended. Sitting around a dinner table discussing family who live abroad but ‘would be much better off back home.’ Sitting around a cup of tea discussing friends and how their kids ‘really need a good hiding.’ And the question I ask, in all seriousness is, Who the hell am I to even have an opinion on the matter?


Yes, yes, you will argue that it’s out of concern that one may share advice to a loved one or even a stranger. Yes, yes, you will argue that when we discuss how we would deal with a situation differently, it’s not meant to be anything but a harmless sharing of ideas. Yes, yes, you will argue that when we share opinions on politics, philosophies or child rearing, it is purely to discuss different ideas and schools of thought. No harm done. And I guess I have to ask, if we’re not going to sit around at dinner or breakfast expressing and sharing opinions over certain things, what would there be to talk about?


But I have to remember that quote, Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. Into which category does this opinion-giving philosophy-evaluating talk fall? On all fronts, opinions are warranted. And perhaps where the quandary comes in. We should have our opinions well formulated on our own living philosophy, I suppose. We should encourage children to think and formulate opinions for themselves, while trying to silence the spoon fed opinions forced on them by mass media. But perhaps we all need a lesson as to when and how we share these opinions. Like I said earlier, certain opinions are warranted. Certain opinion are indeed even appreciated.


And the gist of this all is simple: consider what you say before you say it. Is the other person’s action affecting you in any adverse way? No? Then shut up. Do you have the type of relationship with that person that allows exchange of opinions, no matter how different? No? Then shut up. Did they ask for your opinion or advice? No? Then. Shut. Up.


I've seen, as I'm sure we all have, countless instances where people sit around getting themselves upset because of a situation completely beyond the realms of their control. How someone else raises a child, what job a friend accepted, where someone else chose to buy a home, what colour a person dyed their hair, the fact that our president chose another bride. These are so arbitrary and personal (for the people actually involved), there’s simply no point in allowing them to cause stress in your life. To share a twentieth-century catchphrase, Why sweat the small stuff? And it’s all small stuff. Then there’s also the fact that most prejudices are simply opinions without factual backing. We can encourage people to form their own opinions as much as we like, but we need to encourage consideration, information and thought to back these opinions.


I remember an episode of Oprah years ago, when she was discussing how to pay someone a compliment. She said, rather say, “That colour looks lovely on you,” than “I love that colour.” The latter implies that your nod of approval is the condition upon which the colour is deemed acceptable, instead of making the person wearing the colour the central focus of the compliment. In a way, it makes sense.


I remember being incredibly hurt when I got engaged, overhearing someone pass a comment about my ring saying, “It’s not my taste, but I suppose she doesn’t know any better.” The person didn’t realise I had heard the comment; else I hope it would not have been passed in the first place. What an incredibly insensitive thing to say. It still makes my heart a little sore. The implication was that my taste, or rather, my husband and my jeweller’s taste, needed someone else’s acquiescence.


Even Ghandi said, “We may have our private opinions, but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts?”


It is, I guess, the nature of the beast. We are subjective beings and will therefore have subjective feelings about issues and things. We also feel very little shame about expressing our subjective feelings when we are in the ‘safe zone,’ i.e. surrounded by people we believe actually care what we think. It’s accompanied by a personal haughtiness which empowers us to speak our mind, mindless of those listening to our assessments as though we were masters of all that matters. And since it seems to go against human nature to hold our tongues when we feel the compulsion to allow it to flap, I simply ask that you consider first a few of the questions mentioned above. And even if it is only once in a while, for instance when you see me feeding my kid a Kit-Kat in the shopping queue, opt for keeping your opinion to yourself.


Silence is sometimes the most telling opinion of all.


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