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On Being Opinionated

Heidi Shenk daily life

I am opinionated. If you know me, you already know this quite well. It's a personality trait that I have carried since as long as I can remember. I let those opinions fly and stubbornly stuck to them as a child. In high school, I wrote about them in editorials in our school newspaper, causing uproar among some who would approach me in class about how my opinion was wrong. And as an adult, I still find myself blurting out my thoughts and feelings on occasion.

I tend to stick to my arguments, but also like to hear different points of view as it can help me grasp a better frame of mind. But sometimes, I have a hard time understanding the other point of view. And sometimes, I realize that the reason for the uproar is because my opinion sheds light on a truth in some way. Am I always right? No. Opinions are not always based upon factual knowledge, and so by virtue I can't be right. They are rather a belief that has been formed based on your personal views.

However, thinking back on some of the situations that got me in the hottest of water were editorials or statements that were based on truths-- things that were true, but others didn't want to admit to because they knew it was wrong and that they were contributing to it. In high school, it was an editorial about how having to pay to be in a school spirit club created divisiveness between students at school athletic events. Only those who paid could sit in a certain section, and I and many others couldn't afford to pay, so we felt pushed aside. Or, it was the editorial I let one of my writers run about how segregated our cafeteria was-- complete with a diagram labeling the jock, stoner, Latino, nerd, and prep tables. These were truths. And the outrage and backlash came about because people knew they were true and they didn't want to admit to the ugliness of it all.

In my adult life, I still see these sorts of inequalities, and I certainly haven't learned to keep my mouth shut. I wrote about the divisive nature of the arts here in Baltimore. I sometimes find myself spouting off about how unequal and inaccessible some programs are in our neighborhood. I point out how parents create a divisive line through taking on an air of superiority or one-upping any and every story presented when speaking to non-parents, even if unknowingly doing so. I run my mouth about all sorts of things that go beyond what I've just mentioned. These are just a few of the topics that I can think of offhand that I've discussed in the past month.

Recently, as I reflected on a conversation that involved one of my strong opinions, I tried to evaluate why I sometimes can't back down on my beliefs. I realized that almost all of my opinions come back to the same thing-- treating people fairly and equally. One artist should not be treated differently than another simply because they aren't part of a popular group of people. Events and programs in our neighborhood should be priced in a way that makes them accessible for all, not just for an elite group. Parents and non-parents should be treated equally as human beings, not given preference or special accolades simply because one decided to have children and the other did not. Things should be fair and equal.

And I know that in life, nothing is fair and nothing is equal. And it probably never will be. On a grander scale, divisiveness will continue to exist. But I'm just not sure I can let that go. Because if I let go of being ok with inequalities on a smaller scale then doesn't that prime us to be ok with them on a larger scale as well?

As an adult, I've heard it time and again that we must not share our opinions because some people will take it the wrong way or become offended. But what are we to do when our opinions need to be heard? Sometimes hard truths and real talk creates dialogue that would have never existed if we kept quiet. I speak what is on my mind not to alienate, but rather to create dialogue. If no one ever talks about the stuff that hurts or upsets them, then we'll never make progress toward understanding each other as different people. 

Yes, of course, this is my opinion, just like so many other opinions I've developed throughout my lifetime, but as always I put it out there as a way to seek understanding. Are you opinionated like me? How do you approach the tough subjects that hurt or upset you? Do you keep quiet or do you try to create dialogue through sharing your opinion?


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