My promise to the American people: No new opinions!

So, it’s been brought to my attention that I may not be the most sympathetic of characters — but only to those who know me and see me on a regular basis.

I’m not always the best with my “people skills,” which, you know, makes my living with and working with other humans somewhat fraught. I’ve been told that my behavior reminds some of my acquaintances of Sheldon’s, but I don’t think I’m that obtuse and unaware of others’ annoyance with me. I’m usually aware of it, but I can’t always prevent it. In my head, I’m more of a Leonard than a Sheldon.

If I’ve not annoyed or angered you in some way, you may not want to meet me — instead, just continue admiring my humble brilliance from a distance, reading my one-sided monologues and witty comments. It’s quite possible I’m a more-interesting person through the medium of the written word than I am in person.

It’s also possible I’m not that interesting here either.

I don’t, you know, DO much stuff that’s worth writing about. I don’t travel much, or have a cute child (but I do have a couple homely ones! — sorry, just joking), or climb the corporate ladder. I live a life of my mind — which is pretty interesting to me, but not so great for the people to whom I try to explain my ideas. I get it — the world’s got plenty of ideas, not everybody wants or needs to see my side of things. They’ve got their views of things, of course. And just because I strongly express my opinions about things doesn’t mean, you know, that others actually want or need these opinions.

So, I’m making a resolution in honor of my upcoming 40th birthday: I will try not to share so many of my opinions with my colleagues and others.

I get it. Opinions are pretty common, almost everybody has them, and announcing my opinions seldom improves those things opined about. Also, I’ve been voluble about my opinions for quite a while now, and I think I ought to outgrow them. Instead of being that opinionated young guy, I’d rather be that wise old dude who knows stuff but doesn’t go around announcing what he knows.

I know that this will take a while. I’m sure I’ll still sometimes give my opinions when they’re not asked for, as I build a habit of trying to withhold these opinions. But I’m just realizing that many of the things are low-value things that don’t really matter, that just don’t need to be added to the intellectual world.

I’m not gonna shut up completely — especially in writing this blog. But even here, I try to think about stuff, rather than just stating and arguing for my opinions. I try not to criticize things I dislike, although I know that sometimes being critical of an existing idea can help me arrive at a new idea. But I think I’d rather just ignore stuff I don’t like and just think and write about stuff I do like, stuff I do think is worthwhile, etc.

For instance, I have a tendency to criticize dumb TV ads and terrible local-news story-segues. But, I’m thinking today, why even bother reacting? I mean, maybe I feel like I’m protecting myself from dumb ideas, but I could just ignore these dumb things, letting them go, rather than criticizing them, thereby annoying my wife when she watches TV with me.

Maybe ignoring things is better than attacking things. Maybe I can spend less of my attention, my mental energy, swatting down low-quality things, and instead focus my thinking on ideas I actually am interested in — or, frankly, save my energy and not think at all, which sometimes I need, too.

Update:

Opinions are reactions to seeing/perceiving things. But for most things, we don’t really need to react to them. Things go on whether we react or not. The cold weather continues whether I want it to or not, and I’m not sure most social situations are all that more influenced by my opinion than the weather is.

When I talk about letting go of reactions/opinions, I’m thinking in terms of (my limited understanding of) the Buddhist idea of non-attachment to views:

apart from the actual content of the views, a person attached to views is bound to get into disputes with those who hold opposing views, resulting in unwholesome mental states for the winners as well as the losers…

and

attachment to views implicitly involves attachment to a sense of ‘superior’ & ‘inferior,’ and to the criteria used in measuring and making such evaluations..[but as the Buddha explains] any measure or criterion acts as a limitation or bond on the mind

Source here.

Update 2 (Even updater):

Since writing the above, I’ve also been reminded of the idea of opinions expressed in this dialogue (from Charlie Wilson’s War):

Gust Avrakotos: There’s a little boy and on his 14th birthday he gets a horse… and everybody in the village says, “how wonderful. The boy got a horse” And the Zen master says, “we’ll see.” Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg, and everyone in the village says, “How terrible.” And the Zen master says, “We’ll see.” Then, a war breaks out and all the young men have to go off and fight… except the boy can’t cause his legs all messed up. and everybody in the village says, “How wonderful.”

Charlie Wilson: Now the Zen master says, “We’ll see.”

And I’ve also thought that it’s not just Buddhism that questions the value of making judgments, but also Christianity:

7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

 

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