If this autumn has hammered anything home in the United States, it's that everyone has an opinion. Not that I didn't already know this, but seriously. I heard more opinions this election cycle than I can ever recall witnessing before. Every time we touched a toe into the waters of social media, wham! There they were. The opinions of every. Single. Person we know.
I know very well I wasn't the only one overwhelmed by it.
And it isn't over.
There are protests. Speeches given at the end of plays. Countless shows on TV and the internet dedicated to talking heads.
Everyone, in 2016, has a voice. And everyone, in 2016, has the means of making it heard.
I certainly can't sit here on my blog, having tabbed over from the books I'm writing, and say there's anything wrong with that. I have a voice. I have somehow managed to convince thousands of people to listen to me, at least for a few hours while they have my stories in their hands. And so, I've been pondering for weeks why it bothers me so much to be bombarded with other people's opinions every time I emerge into the world of communications.
Then it struck me. And it's two-fold.
America was founded on the idea of individuals having a voice, having a God-given right to it. But it was also founded on the idea of giving those people particular means of expressing it--the vote, and a free press. In centuries past, if you wanted your voice to be heard other than through whom you voted for, you had to go out and seek someone willing not only to listen to it, but to publish it for you.
Today, you need only have an account on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
In centuries past, you had the RIGHT to be heard--but you had to WORK for the PRIVILEGE of having people LISTEN.
Because it comes down to this.
This is what many people I've seen on social media seem to forget. That, yes, they can say whatever they want--but people aren't being cruel or bigoted or stupid or careless or [insert derogatory adjective here] if they don't immediately change their own view to match and applaud the speaker for their brilliance and sound reasoning and excellent point and [insert praise of their intellectual prowess here].
Because there are too many voices. It's become a cacophony. It's deafening and confusing and, worse, focused all too often on destruction rather than edifying. Most of the voices hammering their way to the forefront aren't trying to build anyone up--they're trying to tear down whoever doesn't agree with them.
By all means, America and the world, exercise your voice. It's your God-given right to have it and use it. But remember that it is not everyone else's God-given obligation to listen. We can't. And let's also keep in mind that just because an opinion is OURS doesn't mean it is RIGHT or that anyone who disagrees is STUPID. This is another all-too-familiar refrain these days, isn't it? That if you don't agree with me, you must be an idiot.
Well, I mean, sure, but... ;-)
We don't live in a humble society. But I think we could use a dose of it. We could all benefit from the reminder that we are not by default right. And more:
One of the things we have to teach our toddlers, who are just finding their voice, is that they can't always use it, right? That it's okay to jabber at us at home or in the car, but not while we're on the phone. Or while the baby's napping. Or in church. There's a correct time and place. And volume. And way to share what they're thinking, with manners and concern for those around them. It's not okay to throw down the gift someone has given them and proclaim it stupid and say they don't want it.
But that's exactly how society today behaves. We're all a bunch of toddlers throwing a tantrum on the floor, proclaiming that this is the way it is, and you need to listen now, now, now.
That famed passage in Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
I posit that it's a truly wise person who knows the difference.