On getting off the fence

When I left one of my least favourite jobs – albeit a job significantly improved by virtue of being the place that I met my husband – when I left, my boss had written in one of those big office-leaving-cards. You know, the ones that most people sign without knowing who it’s for, or else with a huge amount of exclamation points!! or an awkward, unexpected number of kisses or in fact the finance director who just signs his name very formally with perhaps a “best regards” to signify his deep regret at your departure. Anyway, my boss had written, “I’ll miss your honesty” which I think might be translation for “thank god you’re finally leaving”.

All that to say, I think I’m pretty direct.

This was not my actual leaving card although it should have been because I was the ONLY person in that office who ever offered anyone else a cup of tea. (Image: Notonthehighstreet)

Anyway I have been realizing, recently, that most conversations – in real, actual, life, but also in articles and posts online – that although a lot of conversations are pleasant, careful and very thoughtful, everyone is super reluctant to say anything that might commit them to an opinion, especially one that comes with the risk that other people might not agree.

And it makes me feel a bit dismayed, because if we can’t voice a real idea, then our conversations quickly lose any real value.

Some people are happy to get their feelings out all over the place.

The more I think about it, the more I notice it; and I wonder when we started being so worried about having a Point of View. I’m sure conversations used to be a bit more forthright.

Is it because I’m old?

I do think that with age, comes a deep-seated reluctance to think of anything in black and white. After all, if you learn anything by simply being alive for more years, it is that there are so very many reasons, contexts, extenuating circumstances, for any given situation.

Small children are very much not afflicted by this problem. All their opinions are strongly held and loudly voiced.

Does that mean that rather than take up a position that might be hard to defend to the end, we lean towards feeling that it would be somehow better to simply understand and embrace all possible viewpoints, even at the expense of leaving us with a vacuum of our own thoughts and ideas?

A death of frivolity?

Is it because our sphere of reference has so much more weight now? As we age there seems to be a lot more at stake. Expressing a specific opinion on parenting, children, real life careers – these are in stark contrast to the fun ideas we were gamely throwing around in our twenties.

In my twenties and definitely not talking about parenting or careers. But clearly with some strong opinions about bleach and fake tan.

Having a totally different view about parenting than a friend is a lot more contentious than their dislike for Paul Simon (but really, who could dislike Paul Simon?)

That said, I may have lost friends by playing Paul Simon on repeat at university.

If you don’t know me by now?

Perhaps the conversation-without-opinion is just a function of spending time with people we don’t know well enough: other parents at school, colleagues – to trust that they won’t immediately hold an opinion against us or give us the benefit of the doubt if it doesn’t match their own ideas.

Too tired (always)

A very real possibility: are we just too exhausted to construct a cohesive sentence? (struggled over the word cohesive).

Cute but not conducive to much sleep

What about me?

For me: is this just a stark reminder about the impact of being an expat, and not having long-term friendships to fall back on, in person? And maybe for you too, after a move to a new area with your growing family / new job / downsizing / upsizing?

The outcome

Regardless of the reasons, these non-opinionated conversations, with everyone dancing around the crux of a problem – are both exhausting and, well, a bit boring.

I miss the joy of good conversation; fun conversation; people offering up an opinion – sometimes with nothing particularly to back up that opinion – and then the debate – and disagreement and even argument – that ensues.

I’m not talking about aggressively holding an opinion and refusing to learn more about something. I’m talking about taking a position, having a bit of chutzpah in a conversation, proffering a real idea, and then being willing: more than willing, happy – to have that opinion changed or better-informed.

If I miss conversation-with-opinions, I can only assume that other people do too (or else I really am alone at sea in this world). With that in mind, I have been making efforts to climb off the fence.

You try image searching for this post and see if you can do any better. I don’t know. This is a reference to being alone at sea?

Things I am focusing on –

Saying something real or nothing at all. Like your mother admonished you to say something nice or nothing at all: I am abandoning any real efforts at vacuous small talk. Apart from the weather, because where would we be if we couldn’t talk about the weather?

It’s been sunny, but with a bit of a nip in the air. I know you were wondering.

Giving other people the benefit of the doubt even when they say stupid things. We all say stupid things. I say lots of stupid things.

Writing opinionated articles and reading opinionated pieces. In lieu of, if not also alongside real conversation, I am enjoying making the effort to read articles, features, novels, that commit to an opinion. Sometimes it takes a horrible policy like separated families for people to start standing up and publicly voicing their ideas. But it felt good, seeing bloggers and journalists stand together with real and honest responses to this terrible period of history.

A little more to say than my last post about smug and lazy Mum cakes, sure, but I hate the idea that we are all so afraid of offending others that we might lose an opportunity for real, meaningful connection. Tell me something real! Send me your opinions! Let’s all aim to get off the fence a little more.

tMatM x


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