At 29 years old, I still have a hard time giving opinions. Forming them is difficult enough – trying to work past the white fuzz upstairs (though significantly quieter nowadays) to piece together bits of information. Even with all this reading and research, most of my thoughts go unvoiced; I’ve lost count of the drafted and deleted tweets, the scrapped blog posts. I can’t pin the blame wholly on a fear of upsetting others. It’s more a case of, “Have I learned enough? What are the chances that I’ve missed a vital detail, and will end up looking like a twat?” I admit to being a bit of a people-pleaser, and a perfectionist; not in the “humble brag on the CV” sense, but in the way a sword cuts the wielder if mishandled.
There is, at least, some improvement on the mentality of teen years and early twenties. Anorexia nervosa is the equivalent of ice forming over a lake, with every thought and emotion locked down below. I didn’t believe my opinions were worth enough to break through. I have the ability to rationalise now, to think more clearly. Communication breakdown occurs when thoughts try to leave my mind, and fall into the gap where self-esteem should be.
(Working on that.)
This week, I broke past the dread of stepping in where uninvited, to offer an alternative view to a Twitter user responding to a ComRes opinion poll. It showed the hypocrisy of a large proportion of the British public, who believe that their right to live and work in other EU countries does not extend to those citizens that wish to do the same here.
“What’s good for the goose, is not always good for the gander. My case and point.”
This only seemed to highlight the vague simplicity and arrogance of the results found in the poll. What works for me doesn’t work for others. When I sent him a link to the excellent Jonathan Portes article on immigration, it wasn’t out of snark or any wish to be condescending. I felt he might benefit from it. Portes, as director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, is someone with the authority to speak on such a hot topic as immigration, with researched and valid facts. I also advised reading up on the EU itself, since freedom of movement is one of the four basic principles enshrined in the treaties, running parallel with the freedom of goods, capital and services, for a functioning single market.
He didn’t want to know. The blinkers went on, as he pointed out that “i don’t read the papers and besides. i think my point is valid.” Well, fair enough. But when I pressed him on this – adding that, besides newspapers, there are facts on immigration and the EU to be found in academic papers and think tanks – the response was equally curt. “you can be intellectual w/out reading the papers. i would recommend not appearing to know my intellect w/out knowing me. blocked.”
I wasn’t angry. Actually, I laughed, but it was a sad outburst, and caused several of my colleagues to think I had finally lost it.
Reading across a range of views is something I’d recommend to anyone. Data can be presented differently to suit a political agenda, sure, but it doesn’t come from thin air. Research centres and agencies – many of which publish their findings for free on social media and official sites – give access to anyone willing to learn about the topics they want to discuss, or simply know more about for peace of mind. If they felt like, I don’t know, taking on a bit of grey.
I’m not talking about self-censorship. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and god knows, I’m still working on my own projection. In the past 18 months or so, I’ve read enough to set off a new trend of wavering fear in myself, just because there is so much to process. Often, I don’t speak up at all. But this time, a combination of frustration and the belief that I held concrete facts over vague opinions about a very pertinent subject, overrode fears of rebuttal (which came anyway, but hey.) Whether he took it or not, I guess went interlinked with the satisfaction of knowing I’d at least tried to do something, for a change.
In the run-up to the GE, with the parties now apparently vying to show who can be the most pro-active on a public sore spot, surely the least we can do as individuals is take the responsibility for measuring opinions against facts, balancing our views against others. We’ve never been so well-placed to do so, with the rise of social networking, and various points of analysis to make the raw content more accessible.
What’s the worst that could happen? We are informed by the experiences of others – say, immigrants themselves?
It’s not about surrendering to a higher will. If anything, it’s about strengthening our personally-held truths by allowing them to be made fragile, perhaps changed and reset, by what we learn. It’s about giving others the benefit of the doubt, to form a more complex view of the world.
Anyway, that’s my opinion.