The Jurassic Park of Public Opinion
What is the purpose of opinions, and should we feel any obligations as to how we deliver them?
I bring this up because, late to most parties, I have just discovered blogs and comments through The Pilot's new and improved Web site. They are eye-opening.
At once edifying and instructive, they are also rife with horrors. Jurassic Park comes to mind. Such an educational and fun amusement park in the tropics, a perfect family destination - until the children are eaten by a Tyrannosaurus rex.
Everyone knows that today's public discourse is in tatters, and there are at least two simple reasons why this is true. One is that the level of debate is not very high, and the other is that too often those involved compound ignorance with anger and personal attack. Debate then comes to a halt. It is of no use to anyone.
When Steve Bouser, The Pilot's Editor, asked if I would be interested in contributing a column, I said yes. Being an opinionated sort, and always ready to raise some hell, it seemed like a good fit. He asked, could I do it and keep a civil tone? I said he'd have no truck with me, that while being rude and calling people names said much about that person's character, it wasn't a very good way to advance an argument or win a debate.
At least that's what they taught in elementary school. Our teachers said we were not old enough or educated enough to hold opinions. Therefore, they were not interested in hearing any. Not until sometime during college did a professor suggest that a time might come (emphasis on might) when because successive faculties had finally been able to stuff something of import into our brains, our opinions might (the emphasis on might again) matter.
He said something like this: The question you will then ask is, if you will have an opinion, is it to a greater good; and can you deliver it in such a way as to further that good? If neither of these, then of what use is your opinion?
Which brings me back to the comments that appear on The Pilot's Web site, and I'd like to thank some of those who post comments for reminding us that opinions are often thought to be forfeit if they get away from the subject at hand, show no knowledge of that subject, or attack personally in a mean-spirited or derogatory way those they are trying to impress.
Also, when offering an opinion, it is important to present supporting evidence. Therefore, I introduce you to someone who goes by the anonymous handle of Ed. And Ed, I am sorry to use you as the lone example. I would like to expose more of you who will not make any debating teams, but you'll have to take it up with Mr. Bouser, who only allows me about 700 words.
Ed posted in a very spirited debate to those who thought it was poor taste for The Pilot to bring us a front-page picture of a woman dressed only in paint. "All you self-righteous people with your fake disgust make me laugh," he said. "Hypocrites every last one of you. You must spend your days with your heads in the sand(hills). If you don't like it, don't look."
Ed, again, I apologize for bringing this opinion of yours out into the light of day, but I would argue that it is forfeit for the reasons mentioned above. It shows little economy in any way with the subject matter, and it is extremely rude to all of those with whom you would debate.
I suggest to you that your points might be more effective if: (a) you had any, and (b) you could deliver them without being rude. Until then - and I mean this only in the nicest, most nonpersonal way, Ed - your arguments don't count.
So there it is, and I'd like to thank Ed for helping to make the case, and reminding us that the best cases know something of the case, are made gently, and don't get on another's case.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines and is a regular contributor to The Pilot and PineStraw magazine. Contact him at email@example.com.
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