“I Have No Opinion About This…”

Divisiveness is part of life in the 21st century in a way that it never has been before. The rise of the internet has led to an increase in tribalism – for better and for worse. It’s easier than ever to find people who share your experiences and your interests. Forty years ago most people only connected deeply with people in their local vicinity, or friends and family who had once been part of their work or home life. Now, whether you love woodworking, X-Men comics, or backyard farming, it’s possible to find people all around the world with the same passions, and support each other as you deepen your interests. (Of course, this is equally true for harmful and hateful interests – the rise in neo-Nazism over the last few decades is not a coincidence.) In general, tribalism is a calming state for our brains – if we know who is “in” our group and who is “out” our brains don’t have to think about it anymore.

The same is true with opinions – the rise of the internet has led to a hyperbolic “best/worst [thing] ever!”, which, try as we might, impacts our own views – or at least how we articulate them. Have a political opinion? It seems that if you’re not deeply entrenched and fighting someone with an opposing opinion, you’re doing it wrong. But of course, this creates divides, and builds an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Fortunately, Stoic philosopher (and Roman emperor) Marcus Aurelius had a solution, nearly two millennia ago. In his Meditations (written in Greek between 161 and 180 AD), Aurelius wrote, “You always own the option of having no opinion.” Imagine that!

That’s not to say you shouldn’t care, of course. You naturally hold strong opinions about some matters, which shape your world and the actions you take. But not everything has earned the right of having your opinion. You have limited attention, limited capacity. and limited time. Instead of jumping to an opinion (especially, perhaps, one based on the talking points of your chosen political party, if you have one), what might happen if you said “I have no opinion about that”? Or ask open-ended questions instead? What might be possible if you sought to understand the life experiences of others that led them to their opinions?

How can this be helpful for you and your team this week?

This Week’s Tips:

  1. Notice when you are being prompted to have an opinion. This might happen more than you think, between watching the news, enjoying music and movies, and interacting with team members. Notice how your opinions form.
  2. Consider not having an opinion… Hold yourself back from sharing your opinion on things that are not deeply meaningful for you.
  3. …and asking open-ended questions instead. Focus on staying “curious not furious” – ask open-ended questions to learn more about other people’s experiences. Notice what happens when you do.

Try these out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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