This post was originally published on the now-retired Make and Meaning blog on December 5th, 2009.

Let’s talk about opinions.

What do you think of opinions?

I think opinions are the very things that make life fascinating.

Freedom of Speech, by Randy Robertson on Flickr
Freedom of Speech, by Randy Robertson on Flickr (CC-A licensed)

In their most benign state, opinions manifest as subtle preferences — loving marshmallows but not so much with the rack of lamb. They’re what make us different from each other.

In their most malignant state they underlie wars, discrimination and any number of other kinds of destructive acts.

When they aren’t used to destructive ends, though — and let’s face it, most opinions are of the benign sort–if not necessarily used for good, certainly not used for evil — I think opinions are great.

They make people uncomfortable, though. Lots of people don’t like to say what they think. They’re concerned other people will find them pushy or arrogant. Or they don’t think anybody would care what they think. Or they fear offending somebody.

I think those people should stop thinking that way. Instead, they should consider their opinion and express it with care. Not too cautiously, but carefully. They should be careful to say what they really think, no more and no less. They should know when they say it that if they’re misunderstood, they’ll be able to explain. That if they’re challenged, they’ll be ready to talk.

This is much more easily achieved in writing than in heated conversation.

My favourite kind of writing is the kind that explodes out of my brain propelled by the brute force of not being able to be contained anymore. You can tell when I’ve written something under hijack like that. First, you’ll sense  I was cranky when I wrote it. Next, you’ll note that my writing was pretty clear and to the point. Finally, you’ll see that people responded to it. There aren’t very many things I’ve written that fall into this category, given how long I’ve been writing publicly. When it happens, though, it’s like magic.

It’s like magic because under these kinds of circumstances I stop qualifying what I need to express. I stop apologizing for it in advance, I stop softening my language, I stop pulling my punches. I get bold and sometimes even fierce.

The cranky part is important. When I’m cranky, I’m more apt to be blunt and I’m also more inclined to be productive. When I write under hijack I don’t just rant, I usually explore some idea of how whatever it is that’s got me riled up could be fixed, improved, changed or otherwise be smooshed, cajoled or busted apart so it doesn’t make me cranky anymore. I’m not just rationalizing crankiness, either. An Australian psychologist recently found that, “[a] mildly negative mood may actually promote a more concrete, accommodative and ultimately more successful communication style.”

And yet we — all of us — try so hard to be pleasant (read: dull) all or most of the time.

I’m gonna throw out there that expressing an opinion is not necessarily incompatible with being pleasant. If more of us did it, we’d have lots more to talk about.

So. Tell me what you really think.

Unfortunately, all comments were lost when Make and Meaning was taken down. Don’t hesitate to repeat yourself here, or to join in on the new conversation.

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Finally, a great defense for my being mildly cranky most of the time ;)

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