Tag Archives: opinions

Can We Talk? Opening Your Mind To Broaden Your Horizons

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” –Frank Zappa

Hello friend,

How many times, in the wake of an event that has spurred divisiveness and dragged out the worst sides of politics and social media trolls, have you actually struck up a thoughtful, deep-diving, and respectful discourse with someone from the other side of the fence?

Never, right?

In those moments when everyone’s nerves are raw and the sense is that people who disagree with you are evil at worst and foolish at best, it is usually best to avoid the interaction altogether. You know that if you get into it, you are probably going to let your anger get the best of you and say something you will regret (or should regret), leading to a spiral of hurt feelings and walls up, with no one hearing—much less considering—anything the other side is saying (or shouting).

It is even worse on social media, where, if you share your thoughts—or someone else’s video or blog or article that makes your points better than you can—the trolls come to pounce with every snarky meme, crude oversimplification, and attack on your character that you can imagine. That typically leads to a series of angry retorts from both sides and a growing divide between. More walls.

It begins to feel useless—even unhealthy–to ever say anything about any topic of importance to anyone at all.

I mean, sure, it is nice to talk about issues that matter to you with people who agree with you. They tell you that you are right, maybe even give your main points a little more clarity and nuance. You come away from the discussion with even greater conviction. But how much difference are you really making? Are you enlightening any of those who are ignorant on the other side? Are you changing any new minds, making progress toward that critical mass of people who will make the greater societal change you are hoping for?

While the choir definitely needs to hear the sermon, too, at some point the message needs to travel beyond the thick chapel walls.

It was with this frustrating but ordinary reality that I went to sleep on Sunday night. When I awoke in the early hours of Monday morning, there was a message on my phone from my sister, who had just arrived in Las Vegas with her family the day before, letting me and the rest of our family know that she was safe. I quickly got up to speed on the mass shooting, the numbers for which were updating as I read.

So began the typical week in America when something like this happens, as it so often does. First it is the “thoughts and prayers” moment, immediately followed by—or joined with—people jockeying for position in the gun control debate.

Of course, it never goes anywhere. I already reminded you how public debate happens. Anyway, after a few days of anger, insults, and trolling, our attention wanders to the next hot topic. But in those few days, things are definitely tense and combative. The number of articles written and posts shared spikes, as does the animosity between the two sides and their propensity to dig their heels in and refuse to listen or engage in anything resembling productive dialogue.

America. 2017.

It was right in the thick of this national drama—and my personal frustration about it—that I happened to get a private message from an old school friend whom I had, until a recent, brief contact, hardly heard from in twenty years.

I had, on Monday afternoon, shared two articles on Facebook that I thought were important and helpful thoughts about this moment in our country, good fodder to journal about or discuss with those who are willing to engage this thorny topic in this difficult time. The first one shared grief about the Las Vegas massacre and also bridged into why it is important to again begin to raise the issue of tighter gun laws. The second article was purely informational, a series of charts and graphs explaining America’s unique relationship with guns and gun violence.

I am, as I have made clear many times in these letters and on social media, quite liberal on most of the thorny issues we face—or fail to face, as the case may be—in this country. So I am sure that those two pieces I shared on Facebook on Monday afternoon came as no surprise to my old friend from school.

No, the surprise belonged to me. It was Monday evening when the private message showed up on my tablet. He explained that he had read the articles that I had shared that day and wanted to better understand where a guy like me was coming from so he could have a broader perspective. He gave a little personal history on living in areas with different levels of gun violence and a brief explanation of his gun control perspective, which, you may have guessed, did not match mine. He reiterated that he was merely looking to gain perspective.

I was blown over. Honestly, I had to read his short note over a few times to be sure of what I had just read. I know it sounds dramatic, but I was truly shocked. Delighted, but shocked.

I suppose it is a sad commentary on us all that the occurrence of someone from one political/philosophical bent approaching someone from another (“opposing”) side and asking simply if the “opponent” would better inform the questioner about the opponent’s view so that the questioner could see the issue more clearly would seem such a rarity as to cause shock. But, as I said, “America. 2017.” Here we are.

I, of course, jumped on the opportunity. I knew the potential dialogue was fraught with landmines and that we both might end up cursing the other for being so foolish as to not accept our arguments and blindly convert our positions on gun control, but I was too giddy at the possibility of this rare gem in the form of a genuine exchange of different ideas and opinions.

I stayed up past my bedtime that night, all riled up by both the topic and the chance to open a mind. I wrote out my basic arguments on the issue, then passed on a letter I wrote to you about the topic a few years ago. The next morning I happened upon a video that I thought clarified my perspective a bit and passed that on. Later in the morning, he sent along a couple of notes in response to my points and tried to lay out his position for me in greater detail. The next day, when I finally had time to write down my thoughts—as you know, I have a lot to say—I sent a long retort, explaining how his argument did not seem logically consistent and putting in a few more angles to plug my own position. Finally, he attempted to clarify his position again.

The entire exchange took place over 48 hours, from Monday to Wednesday evening. And believe me, lots of energy was expended, both emotionally and in terms of time and effort. Because I must admit, I was totally into it the entire time. I was invested in learning more about his perspective, so I eagerly awaited his responses each time. And I spent a lot of thought on how to best express my own perspective in a way that was thorough and respectful. I was clearly engaged, that made it all the more rich and meaningful.

And amazingly, I did not get angry during the exchange. I definitely scratched my head a few times trying to make his view seem logically consistent. Maybe I thought he was in denial about some things and short-sighted on others. But I understood where he was coming from. On the receiving end, I admit that I didn’t especially like it when he referred to people who share my views as “infantile, childlike, and naïve,” but I let that slide off me—which is very unlike me—because it was also very informative about his position, which he was being honest about. It didn’t feel like he was trying to deliver me a personal cheap shot. The whole vibe of the exchange was very genuine: passionate but not offensive, honest but not cutting.

And even if I did get worked up in the process, it was a small price to pay for the broadening of my horizons and a greater sense of compassion for others who don’t share my worldview. I was–and still am–deeply grateful for the trade.

I have wondered, in the few days since the dialogue concluded, if we could have had such an open, authentic exchange on such a sensitive topic—especially given the proximity to the tragedy—in a face-to-face setting and still been both respectful and heard. Would we have, in our quest to get our points across in as rapid an exchange as conversation usually is, been talking over each other and been triggered to anger, personal attacks, or caricatures of the other’s view? I am not so confident.

I usually think of the Internet—especially the Comments section of posts—as the place where people are at their most cowardly, hiding behind their keyboards to deliver cheap shots, knowing they do not have to see the face of the person whom they are trying to hurt. But in this case, I think the distance between us helped in that it gave us time to form our thoughts more clearly before we sent them, or at least allowed us to send along a clarification (or supporting articles, videos, etc.) later. It felt more thorough than a regular face-to-face or phone conversation this way. And obviously, I think the fact that we are old friends and have good will toward each other helped to keep it from devolving into the kind of shallow, crass exchanges you see online.

When I think of the exchange as a whole, the word that comes to mind is refreshing. Maybe I had lost too much faith in my fellow humans, but I simply didn’t imagine myself having that kind of dialogue this week (or any week, honestly). As I mentioned, the initial request itself floored me. Even had the discussion gone nowhere of great interest, just that simple request for better understanding—“Help me gain perspective” is my new favorite phrase—would have been enough to restore my faith in humanity for a little while. The fact that the dialogue that followed this beautiful plea was fruitful is all the more refreshing. I wish such a mind-opening gift upon everyone. I know I am up for another!

How about you? Are you open-minded enough to have a meaningful exchange about a sensitive issue with someone who comes at it from a totally different perspective? Open up your journal and consider the degree to which you are willing to both share your own thoughts respectfully with an “opponent” and also give serious respect and consideration to their views, building a true dialogue together rather than a fight. Which of the big issues are you most passionate about and get your blood boiling the most when you listen to the other side’s claims? Gun control? Racism? Health care? Immigration? Climate change? Abortion? Income inequality? The list goes on. Which ones rattle your cage the most? How well-versed are you in your side’s arguments? Well enough to put up a good fight in a debate if necessary? Are you eager to put your views out there and engage debate, or do you shy away from giving your opinions, even if they are strongly held? What is your typical reaction when you hear someone from the other side of your hot-button issue give their opinions? Do you get fired up immediately? Do you get so agitated that it would be difficult to engage in a meaningful, respectful dialogue on the topic? Have you ever been approached by someone who thoroughly disagrees with you on a thorny issue and would like to challenge your beliefs? If so, how did you respond and where did it lead? Has it ever ended well? It is my thoroughly biased belief that people who keep a journal have stronger foundations for their beliefs because, through their journal writing, they have considered the topics more thoroughly than people who don’t journal. I am not saying that we journal writers are more passionate about our opinions or even always correct, just that we are more likely to have logically consistent positions that can be expressed clearly. Do you agree? (Here’s a hint: you have to write one to find out the answer!) Have you ever had your view of humanity refreshed by a single exchange? Have you ever had a situation like mine and been engaged by someone who knowingly disagrees with you but who simply wants to broaden her view of the world? Would you prefer to do it face-to-face and all-at-once or through writing over time? How about the flip-side: have you ever approached an “opponent” with the humble request, “Help me gain perspective.”? On which issue would you most like to submit that request? From my experience this week, I would highly recommend it. Do you dare? Leave me a reply and let me know, Can you open your heart and mind enough to engage an opposing perspective with respect?  

Blossom and grow,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please pass it on. Dialogue is good!

Living By The Opinions of Others

DSC_0397“Conformity is a copout. It threatens self-awareness.” –Alexandra Robbins

Hello friend,

Most weeks after I write my letter to you, I forget about it immediately and move on. After a few days of allowing my mind to be free and open, I start to wonder about what I will write to you next. This week, however, has been different. As I was closing last week’s post, “How to Change and Still Be Yourself,” one of the thoughts that sprung from my fingers to the screen regarding fear of being judged by others was, “Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it?” It was one of those moments of writing when I said to myself, “Where did that sentence come from?” I didn’t think of it; it just came out. But when it hit me, it stuck. Really stuck. It resonated way down deep in me, touching a nerve that, apparently, needed some care and attention. All week long, I have returned to to this question.

I have questioned myself more than once as to whether I really got to the heart of the matter in last week’s post. It was about daring to break out of your comfort zone, and I talked about how I was trying to balance my desire to share my new business, which I really believe can help people, with my innate discomfort with selling anything. In the process of writing the letter, I became more certain that it was worth it to get past my discomfort in selling things because that is outweighed by the potential good I can share with others. The issue was supposed to be resolved with that realization.

So why has the topic lingered so much? It was that question about granting other people enormous power over my choices and actions without doing anything to earn that power. I have been thinking that maybe the crux of the issue is not that I am not a salesman; maybe my real comfort zone is when I don’t do anything that could draw criticism or rejection from my peers. This includes sales. I am thinking that the essence of why I don’t want to share a product and business that I believe in is that I am scared to be judged and rejected.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, we are all a little self-conscious and want our peers’ approval. It’s natural. Aren’t you used to that at your age?”   Well, yes and no. Of course, there has always been some desire for public approval (I was an actor, after all, and now I am a writer). But I have actually passed through periods where I believed I was somewhat free of my ego’s need for acceptance. When I was in my early twenties, I lived for a short time in New York City. The city was an animal like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everything—everything—was so big, so loud, so busy. And I didn’t know anybody. I was completely anonymous. I loved it! I have vivid memories of walking down the streets of Greenwich Village in the evening, singing out loud. Not to get anyone’s attention, but just because I felt like it. I felt so free to follow my whims because I was totally anonymous. No matter who I passed, I was quite sure I would never see them again. If they thought I was a lunatic for singing out loud as I walked, that didn’t bother me at all. Their opinions meant nothing to me. I could just as well have been walking alone in the desert. It was me and only me who I had to answer to. That freedom from caring about judgment gave me a free pass to be myself. It was a new Myself, though, one that I hadn’t known before, because I had always been around people that I knew and whom I had given permission to make me feel right or wrong, good or bad. But it was definitely me singing down that city street. The song in my heart was expressed. I was liberated.

Until I wasn’t. Gradually I slipped back into being too sensitive, too aware of what others might think of me. Maybe it was living in Hollywood, where everything is about the look, the image that people have of you. I suppose I succumbed to trying to be what I thought was the right way to look and act for the people in those circles. Eventually, though, I tired of that mindset. In my last several months in California, I took a deep dive into my spirituality and was heavily focused on its development. I was reading lots of books, and a genuine internal revolution was beginning that would come to shape my outlook on life for all of the years that have followed. I found myself achieving moments when I seemed to transcend this world, causing me to believe that I was becoming immune to the opinions of others. This week, as I was working on my late-night hobby, The Journal Project, I happened to arrive at an entry I made on September 1, 1997, about a month after I had left California. I was assessing the period of deep personal growth that I was in the midst of, and these were the phrases I used to describe my progress and position:

“It is a feeling of total peace within myself, as though there is no place I would rather be than my own skin. I have completely accepted who I am, and I am so very happy about the person who it is that I have accepted….I feel as though I have gradually but certainly taken a good look in the mirror and owned all of my attributes, some of which I am happy with and some of which need some work. But I have embraced them all and committed myself to become a positive force in this universe by trying to improve each attribute and use them to the best advantage of that universe. It is in embracing my total self that I am freed from self-doubt and freed from the opinions of others. In becoming free from the opinions of others, or perhaps because of it, I have allowed God to more fully become the true force guiding my life. I surrender myself to His will, and thereby make my life an extension of His hand. With this comes my release from the bondage of opinions. And with this release come a freedom that is so far beyond that which we speak of in our daily conversations. And it is as though I had no idea I wasn’t free until I was actually free.” 

Wow! Who was that guy? I envy him! How did he disappear? He definitely slipped back into being too concerned about what his family, coworkers, and Facebook friends think. And even though I try every day to be authentic and share myself honestly with the world around me, I know I fail at it. Every day. I don’t walk my neighborhood streets singing. I catch myself wondering what people will think of my wardrobe as I set my clothes out for the next day. I want a positive reputation. And clearly, as last week’s post reveals, I am worried about how people will think of me when I talk about my new business on Facebook. I am guilty!

And yet, I have my moments. I overcome it sometimes. I think I do it best for these Journal of You letters that I write to you. I made a little deal with myself during the first few posts I wrote that I would “follow the fear.” If a topic seemed uncomfortable to reveal my opinion about, I made myself address it. I made myself write about my weaknesses and insecurities. I made myself take on religion and politics. I shared about my family. I did this because I wanted Journal of You to be authentic, and I believed in its/my purpose. If the examples from my life and my opinions can get someone to start a journal and get to know themselves better, then exposing myself was well worth it. Maybe writing my Truth here will make me feel confident and more willing to share my opinions elsewhere and not be so sensitive to the opinions of others. The “real me” has appeared and disappeared too many times through the years. It is time to claim Myself again!

How about you? Whose opinions most dictate what you do and how you do it? Open your journal and expose yourself. Are you marching to the beat of your own drummer, or are you following someone else’s lead? In what areas of your life do you feel you are being most authentic, living your Truth? When you are in that mode, do you feel more or less sensitive to the opinions of others? What is it that allows you to be authentic despite your insecurities? Do you think you can carry that courage with you to other areas of your life? Has your sensitivity to the opinions of others remained pretty consistent throughout your life, or are you like me, having passed through periods of greater freedom and authenticity? When were you at your most free? How did you get there? Do you ever think you will get to the point where you literally do not care what anyone else thinks of you? How far down the road might that point be? Exactly which people are the ones you are allowing to oppress you (whether or not they know it or are intentionally doing so)? Is it your parents, family, friends, coworkers, Facebook friends, or society in general? I go back to my lingering questions from last week: Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? I know that in my life, I have given my power away too easily. The people I have given it to did not earn it at all. That realization is what eats at me. That is why those questions have lingered all week and will probably linger forever. How about you? Have you given your power away too easily? Has anyone earned it? What could someone do to truly earn your power? Leave me a reply and let me know: “Whose approval are you living for?” 

Life is short,

William