We live in a society that has an official phobia for just about anything, including the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (it’s arachibutyrophobia, in case you’re wondering). Yet when we try to think of The Scariest Things, most of us think of things like spiders, clowns, snakes, abandonment, or heights. There is another one, however, that I think takes home the title of Scariest Thing Ever:
Having an opinion seems easy most of the time. It’s as simple as saying, “I like peanut butter” or “I like cats” or “I think most shades of green end up looking like something disgusting.” We express opinions every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. It’s easy, right?
But what about when it’s a really important opinion? What about when there are people passionate about both sides of an opinion? What happens if you express a minority opinion?
The internet has made the act of Having an Opinion sometimes dangerous. Stand by an unpopular opinion in your workplace an you can endanger your career. Express an opinion about religion (for or against it) and people will call into question your intelligence. Express an opinion about abortions and you will be dubbed either a baby killer or a misogynist. Express an opinion about gender equality (for or against it) and you will get death threats.
It’s so much safer to just keep your opinions to yourself and go with the flow. Don’t rock the boat. Work with the system, don’t fight it.
Recently I have found myself facing this challenge frequently: Stay quiet and remain safe and secure, or stand up with my opinion and risk everything.
My body tenses up, my breath gets short, my stomach twists into shapes in which stomachs were never meant to be. My body senses danger and my brain tells me to run, run as far away from this scary, dangerous thing as I can.
But if I keep silent, who will say the hard things?
Who will say the new things?
If I keep silent, the only voice heard will be that of someone else, someone expressing an opinion I am opposed to in my very core. If I keep silent, we will keep doing things the way they have always been done, and those ways do not necessarily work anymore.
There is a scene in the movie The American President where one of the President’s staff members, Lewis, criticizes his handling of a particular issue. The President hoped that if he ignored it, the issue would go away. His opponent in the upcoming election, Bob Rumson, however, brought the issue up as often as he could. Finally Lewis has enough.
President: Look, if the people want to listen to-
Lewis: They don’t have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water they’ll drink the sand.
My opinions definitely do not bear the weight of someone like the President of the United States. But I like to think that I have valuable things to contribute.
And if I keep silent, people will have no choice but to drink the sand.