When should I speak? (thoughts on sharing my opinion)

Speak up or stay silent?

It’s an issue I’ve struggled with on Facebook. If you’re familiar with the site at all, you know that your newsfeed tells all of your friends’ actions: Jane is now friends with Joe, Bill likes “Billy Graham”, Tom wrote on Tina’s wall, Lisa likes “Little Rosie’s”.

Okay, I have no problem knowing who my friends are friends with–I’ve found new friends this way.

But when I see that a friend has “liked” a group that I am uncomfortable with, I wonder if I should say something.

For example, recently I learned of a group that’s very name struck me as being prejudiced against immigrants and their lack of fluency in English. As a former ESL teacher, I think I’m qualified to speak on the issue. I was concerned that the group members may have acted impulsively when they clicked “liked” and not thought through the issue clearly.

 I wanted to speak up.

Do you know how prejudiced this sounds? Have you looked at the other side of the issue? Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language or lived in a place where you didn’t speak the national language?

It’s not only this issue. There’s the ever-divisive issue of politics, social issues such as abortion or the death penalty, and the groups that have derisive names or use inflammatory rhetoric. I have strong opinions on these. I know I have every right to share my opinion.

But I question the wisdom of sharing my opinion on a public forum.

I have commented on an update that I halfway disagreed with. But in that case, I knew I could have a reasonable discussion with this friend and I did. I walked away with a greater understanding of his position; it was worthwhile to speak.

Another time, John Piper posted an update about abortion. His words were gracious and respectful. The comment thread, though, quickly dissolved into vehement and unprofitable discussion of our president’s stance on the issue; many people were disrespectful and denigrated others.

I read through the many, many comments, and decided to share my opinion:

If you disagree that strongly with Obama, why are you on the web discussing this instead of logging off and praying for him to change his stance?

My comment was the last one. I guess no good Christian could argue that it was better to rant than to pray.

 Speak up or stay silent?

  • Sometimes the answer is obvious: speak when it’s encouraging and kind, loving and appropriate.
  • Sometimes the opposite answer is obvious, too: stay silent when your words would be gossipy, betray a confidence, mean-spirited, or provoke an unnecessary argument.

 It’s not so obvious at other times.

  • when it’s confrontation that could easily be construed as unloving and judgmental.
  • when it makes an inflammatory situation explode rather than subside.
  • when it’s not clear whether my words are necessary or if I’m simply venting, arguing for argument’s sake, desiring to manipulate rather than influence.
  • when it jeopardizes relationships over an issue where others legitimately disagree with me–the issue has shades of gray instead of a clear dividing line between black and white.

When is it necessary to speak, to share my opinion or stand for truth on a public forum like Facebook or a blog?

When is it wiser to stay silent?

 I wonder.

How do you determine when you should disagree with a friend’s opinion or stay silent? 

 

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16 thoughts on “When should I speak? (thoughts on sharing my opinion)

  1. My pastor recently asked some questions along these same lines: When we speak, are we doing it because we just want to be right? Are we truly concerned with a godly mixture of truth, justice, and mercy, or is it more about proving a point, showing others up as wrong and misguided, or patting ourselves on the back for being more spiritual, learned, and correct than someone else? It can be a difficult issue, because, as you pointed out, there are questions of motive, context, forum, and audience that we should consider for different situations. Thanks for reminding me to be more mindful about whether, when, and how I should address certain things!

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    1. Your pastor made great observations! I know my motives are often (okay, always) mixed; I have to ask myself, am I trying to speak up for what is right, or am I expressing my opinion because MY opinion is the only opinion that counts? Thanks for reading!

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  2. One can never be sure of the reaction of the person for whom you share your opinion. I have commented on various blogs and been blasted and called all manner of vile names and on other blogs similar comments have resulted in thanks and appreciation.

    Generally it is a higher average of women than men who blast me. This is consistent with what I get from other men in my practice, that women don’t make it safe for men to be honest with them if there is any note of critique involved of the woman. Women go on the offensive and blast the guy with the idea of teaching him to never do that again. Far too many men learn the lesson and seethe in silence cutting off all efffective communication and damaging their relationship.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. It is sad when women feel the need to blast another person. In a close relationship, that is so damaging! OK, it would be damaging in any relationship, but it seems more hurtful when it’s someone we’re close to. I wonder if the woman’s aggression/man’s passive response accounts for much of the troubled marriages we see, and for much of the communication problems within male/female relationships. Thanks for reading!

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      1. What is so frustrating for men is that they can’t effectively fight or defend themselves. If they yell and scream back ( for the record, I don’t encourage or condone) they are considered bullies and misogynists. They can’t hit the woman like he could hit a guy. All he has is to try and communicate which is tough when the woman is blasting you and cursing you and calling you names. The only thing that he has left if to emotionally withdraw and then he is criticized for not sharing his feelings and emotionally withdrawing.

        You are right, this is the chief reason that couples split up. Sadly marriage counselors don’t teach conflict resolution skills and this is the reason for the dirty little secret in the counseling industry that they have a horrible 75’% failure rate.

        Many counselors are now adopting the new coaching paradigm in their practice with far better results.

        Blessings on you and yours
        John Wilder

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  3. I have decided not to post political or religious viewpoints on Facebook. But this is only because I do not want to open a discussion that might make me angry at people I care about. Thanks for you wise words. I enjoy your Blog! LEK’

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    1. Agreed on the political/religious views on FB. It is easy to get into discussions that lead to misunderstanding and hurt and bitterness. After all, it’s difficult to “hear” the tone of someone’s voice in their writing, and thus their words can be misunderstood. I’ve seen that on several different sites. (I’m sure you’ve encountered that, too!)

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  4. “When is it necessary to speak, to share my opinion or stand for truth on a public forum like Facebook or a blog?”

    When there is a clear sin issue involved with someone you know well and someone you know values what you have to say. Given the lack of information and ambiguity here, silence is the better option. God bless.

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    1. Without a true relationship, honesty (even in love) can come across as self-righteous or condemning. Since this wasn’t a close friend, I chose not to confront; it also wasn’t a clear moral issue, and this person is entitled to their opinion. Thanks for reading!

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  5. In the past, I can remember thinking “Wow, I’m suddenly aware that what’s happening right now might not be so good. Still, everyone else seems to be acting like it’s a good thing. Don’t want to harsh on their high, so I’ll suffer in silence.”

    After the fact, when I spoke with others about not liking whatever scene it was, I’ve *often* heard, “Wow! I thought I was the only one!”

    (“…alone in a crowd of sheep” from “introspection illusion” reminded me of your post. -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introspection_illusion#In_perceptions_of_conformity
    )

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    1. I’ve had the same experience, Michael. It’s still hard for me to know whether to say something or not, though, mostly when I don’t know how irate the person might become. I tend toward silence because I’m A) introverted and don’t like speaking up; B) non-confrontational; and C) I’ve been “attacked” (that may not be the right word) by people who were dogmatic in their belief that I couldn’t possibly be right and that my position was unChristian. (In that situation, I’ve had people later tell me that they were uncomfortable with the issue, too, and agreed with me…It just would’ve been nice if they had spoken up and defended me.

      I’ll have to check out your link! Thanks for reading. Laura

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  6. Hey Laura:

    I just commented on a previous post about the same thing. I have cut and pasted my response to your blog post.

    ← Mother-in-law BrunchI Don’t Understand!
    Posted on August 23, 2010 by R. G. Maines
    Warning! RANT!

    Ok, I’m completely confused by this way of thinking… I can’t wrap my head around it, and it’s p*ss*ing me off!!

    Why do people lecture others about the ‘dangers’ of socializing on the internet, warning people about specific bloggers and their ‘crazy’ interactions with them, telling everyone how frightened they are of these types of bloggers, recommending to others to avoid them at all costs, but then, they, themselves, keep re-establishing relationships with the very people they warn others to avoid?

    I have some lady friends who’ve spent a great deal of time sharing with anyone who would listen, their negative, frightening experiences with a blogger. They’ve talked about how this person is unstable, in their opinion capable of most anything. They have counseled others (myself included) to avoid interaction with this person and others like them. They are adamant about the fact that this person should be avoided.

    They have emailed and shared with many others, the links to various pages this person has, telling people to avoid them, block them, to not get caught up in the ‘craziness’ of this person. (Something the blogger has blamed me for, but I was on the receiving end of those emails.)

    I’ve seen that the same people who’ve warned others to avoid this blogger, repeatedly keep ‘re-friending’ them, visiting their blogs, etc.

    Why this bothers me is that it is terribly contradictory, hypocritical and it feels like a breech of trust. I’ve trusted these people in their guidance regarding avoiding this person, thinking they had my best interest at heart. I believed the things they told me about this person and what they were capable of (as I saw some of it myself, not on the scale my ‘friends’ have suggested). But I’ve seen these same ladies behaving in completely the opposite manner they have recommended to other people.

    Why do people do that? Do they think others forget the things they’ve said? Do they think they won’t or can’t be held accountable for their comments, conduct and opinions?

    I feel incredibly betrayed. I have been blamed for the things they did, because they repeatedly go back and ‘re-friend’ the blogger and I have taken their advice and avoided the person. I’m sure to the blogger it appears as if they are ‘forgiving’ and I am not, therefore I had to have been the one telling people to stay away from, avoid and block this person.

    It’s terribly disheartening to realize that you can’t trust your ‘friends’ to be honest with you. It’s also disconcerting to wonder if they are saying negative things about someone like this blogger but re-establishing a friendship with them, what are they saying about you?

    This whole situation reeks of dishonesty and a lack of credibility. Perhaps it’s time I simply ‘declutter’ my life of all these people?

    Rant over!

    i
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    August 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm
    You have all kinds of people on the net. They bring their baggage and hide behind pseudonyms to attack people viciously. This is not good conflict resolution. Good conflict resolution enables you to disagree respectfully with the other person and voicing your disagreement without attacking the person.

    It is complicated because we don’t have the other visual clues that clarify meaning by seeing non verbal communication. Verbal communication in written form is very confusing at times where people take meanings that were not intended.

    I have bee a victim of this myself where I was the hated person and villified unmercifully with all manner of hate speech and name calling. And yet many women compliment my blog. So my advice to you, is not to listen to other friends but to investigate for yourself with calm dispassion to see if there is any merit to their critiques. Too often people will gang up on an individual where they say things that they would not normally say and people egg each other on to top the previous hateful comment with an even more hateful comment.

    Bloessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. Good conflict resolution enables you to disagree respectfully with the other person and voicing your disagreement without attacking the person.

      I agree! This applies to personal relationships, but also to things like politics and religion. Too often, we become so convinced that “we’re right, they’re wrong” that we believe the other person is the enemy to be targeted with hateful words, etc. But nothing is ever resolved this way. (I’ve seen some discussions on news websites that have dissolved into hateful, ignorant rants toward people THAT THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW!) In the words of one of my favorite singers, “You don’t have to yell/’cause many things are worth the fight/but louder doesn’t make you right/Oh you don’t have to yell.”

      I think you gave great advice to this other person!

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  7. I’m enjoying reading your blog (came here via your comment re the about page post at Michael Hyatt).

    My first thought to your question about Facebook is that if you really want to address the issue with the individual to send them a private message on fb, or contact them by some other means in real life.

    If you just want to test the waters and/or let others know how you feel, you could make a brief comment such as, “Not a fan of this group.” Of course, I think you have to “Like” their posting before you can comment on it, so that may not be such a good option.

    Oh, this social media stuff just gets so complicated!

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    1. I noticed that about Facebook; I have to “like” the group and can’t comment on the name of the group, etc., to the person directly. Definitely not a good idea, considering that all my new “likes” go through my newsfeed!

      I did consider sending a private message to these folks but decided against it. For one, I sense that they would become defensive no matter how tactfully I addressed the issue. But if I actually knew the person in real life and thought they might be open to discussion, I would probably follow your advice and contact them.

      Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. I really appreciate it!

      Like

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