There is a line to song I love that goes, “I keep my distance, and my opinions, to myself.” Though when the artist sings it live, he typically says, “I keep my distance and state my opinions anytime I f***ing please.” Make sense of that how you will. The way it is written, I always appreciated. The way it is sung, I embrace. Unfortunately.
I’ve noticed my opinionated nature gets more and more so the older I get. My tendency in that area has been there for quite some time, but now I’ve become less shy about stating it. And it has the potential to ostracize me. I get frustrated with bureaucracy and other’s failed attempts to make progress and move the conversation forward. And I say so. This is not always a good thing. Especially because I may not always be correct in doing so. Of course I think I am, but even then, sometimes it is best to be reserved. I love the quote, “You have two ears and one mouth; use them in direct proportion.” That needs to be my mantra. I’ve often painted myself as a diplomat. I pride myself on being the devil’s advocate to my own beliefs, I truly try to embrace other’s arguments or stance. But even as I’ve worked to refine those qualities, I end up talking out both sides of my mouth.
All the way back to high school I freely intermingled with the jocks, cool kids, burnouts, hipsters, band dorks, nerds, and weirdoes (I believe I was a combination of the latter two, though not that intelligent). I sort of strayed away from this early in undergrad as I drifted to burnout status, but then back to diplomat as I (barely) rose above it. I had friends, really acquaintances, amongst many groups; I always knew someone somewhere. Around that time I saw the movie SLC Punk with Matthew Lillard, and that is where I embraced the term “diplomat” for myself and in that context: a social butterfly who could freely float amongst different networks. And while I embraced this self-identifying moniker, the older I got the further it was from accurate. With a lot of moving and little attempt or ability to rebuild new networks everywhere I went, the title no longer fit. It became aspirational more than fitting.
Now I still cling to it, and it has slowly become truer through some legwork and networking, but it is not a truly fitting title yet. I hope it to be, one day. The biggest obstruction to this is my outspokenness, and often unwarranted outspokenness. My opinions have gotten the best of me, and now, it seems they precede me, define me even. I need to recede back into my womb, speaking softly (but not carrying a big stick). I’m choosing fights that, while I might win, aren’t worth fighting. I’m creating borders where there is no need. I’m disassociating from “neighbors” that could lend me a “cup of sugar” when I need it, but instead, why should they? I must be wiser in the fights I choose to wage; very few we do are worth it. My opinion is not always necessary. I have to learn that. In fact, I should just tow the party line as much as possible, until it is unbearable and requires my intervention. Then my stance will resonate; I won’t be someone who always stirs the pot, I’ll be someone who serves up the dish when it is time to eat.
Opinions are like a**holes; everyone has one. I must have a few extra. No wonder my metabolism is so high. The path of least resistance is something I need to find. If you stay in the shadows or the crowd, then you can never be accused of hogging the spotlight; not every performance earns a standing ovation. Sometimes they boo. Sometimes they yawn. Sometimes they never come back. As I’ve become more assertive in my views, I also fear that I haven’t adequately built my base from which I launch my fight. My breadth has exceeded my depth, and now it is time to recalculate my mission. I bitch and moan about people’s unsolicited advice all the time, yet I’m quick to give my own. I hope to retract that desire to intervene – let me be called on, let me not offer. If others create the need and seek my counsel, then I will gladly provide. But I shouldn’t be the first to jump in; the water might be too cold and my senses will freeze; the water might be too hot and I’ll boil and pop my top. Room temperature is the way to go, a comfortable 68 degrees. I can turn up or down the dial as the situation warrants, but have someone else say that it is too cold or too warm first. That’s how you build consensus.
Sometimes all you need is to not speak. When I go into the woods and remove myself from society, it is restorative. I feel no need to intervene with Mother Nature, only to take solace in her beauty. I make no suggestions; I have no opinions for her – except maybe that I wish to stay a little longer than I ever do. Perhaps that is where I can learn to cool down my ever-present need to be heard; in nature. Nature is the true omnipresent force, she does what she wants, when she wants. No opinion can dissuade or persuade her, so why waste your efforts? If I were to apply this philosophy in my life, would it help me be calmer? More comfortable? More appealing to the masses? Or would I become a lifeless blob, adding nothing to the conversation, a waste of space?
At least at this point you know where I stand. I’m not neutral. I’m fiery. I’m opinionated. I have character. But maybe I let my voice outrun my intellect, or my fittingness to speak on a subject. Maybe I’m more half-baked than ready to serve. Maybe all those opinions are undercooked, spoiled, or lacking nutrition. Is there a happy median? I doubt it. At least not for me. I do think I could learn how to have an educated opinion if I’m willing to shrink my sphere. Sometimes it seems that the more you know, the less you know. Maybe the less you know makes you feel that you know more – and you’re typically wrong. At least I am, I think.
So I’ll whitewash my opinions, take down the scaffolding of my statue, discourage the onlookers from seeing what they see. Put me in storage, let them forget about me for a while. And when they say next, “What should we do?” or “Who should we ask?” – they’ll know where to find me: minding my own business on the recesses of the action, out of service, and in need of being put back together.