Saturday, November 17, 2012

Speak your mind ... but ...

Resident Kid has a mug that I've borrowed on occasion, most times resulting in great complaints and chastisement, but the thing that I love about this mug is that it is GIANT and it has a picture of a bucking horse (and yes, with a view of the back side) that says, "Speak your mind ... but ride a fast horse."

I realize now what my problem has been in my life.  Being a marginally fast runner, I tend to speak my mind and endure the wrath or enjoy the giggles of the audience.  A few encounters with audiences of the former ilk have impressed upon me there are times when it can pay to not speak my mind, mostly on the topics of politics or religion.  While this tactic leaves a broad range of other worldly topics that are ripe for the picking, it is sometimes an indictment of public discourse practices in our society.

Vitriol that mutes writers is disturbing and violates my sense of what should make up our right to freedom of speech but this and other events made me curious enough about the varying dynamics behind public discourse to try an experiment during and just after the recent election period.

I decided upon certain situations where I would remain deliberately silent about my opinions on who the best candidates for the jobs at stake were and came up with some surprising, at least to me, outcomes.  What I thought was most interesting were the assumptions that people would make that, if I didn't disagree, I must agree.  My assumption going into this process was that others would assume that I was silent because I was following the maxim of, "If you can't find something nice to say, don't say anything at all," that corollary of, "Silence is golden."

I suppose I should be heartened by this in that others were fully expecting that they would be engaged in a lively debate of diverging opinions if the opportunity arose.  And in fact, I found it difficult, if not impossible, to remain silent if the lively debate was couched in questions that sought to identify the realms of possibility amongst the options.

My silence was not at all difficult to maintain when I was confronted by loud statements of opinion that were presented as fact that could not possibly be impugned.  What surprised me about my own reaction in these cases was that it was not the tendency towards being loud and overbearing that turned me away.  In essence, my response of silence meant that I, the listener, gave up on the speaker as a lost cause.