I’m an opinionated person.
I’m not going to say I haven’t been annoying about it in the past. I’m sure I have been many times. Butting in how I feel about something. Giving a long, irritating diatribe about why I feel about something. I can go on forever if I care enough about the subject. Sometimes even when I don’t. I just know enough to sound like I know a lot. I’m sure there are some people who’ve walked away from me after expressing that opinion thinking I’m a total asshole.
On these days I’m Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. I don’t like being Walter, and try every day to not be John Goodman’s gun toting Vietnam veteran. Unfortunately, I encounter a lot of Walters online and in person.
These are folks who want nothing but to be right. They don’t know when to dial it back. Oh, I’ve certainly been Walter. Where my voice raises an extra level and I don’t even realize it. Or I don’t recognize that the person I’m talking to takes discussions and debates too personal.
My dad and I, we love to get into heated discussions about politics. It wasn’t until years later I found out my nephew thought we were fighting when we would. But my dad and I could be angrily tossing strawman’s and comparison’s to the other’s point and inferring the other person is stupid for a straight hour and then five seconds later we’re back calm and collected. We didn’t take it personal. We love each other. We just like to express ourselves. Not everyone can do that. And it’s important to notice that.
There’s a real truth to the fact that not everyone is on the same emotional level. Some people just can’t take anything that feels like confrontation, or anything that seems like a person is judging who they are. Is that their problem? Well, you could look at it that way. It can get difficult to survive in society if you just decide to be the big walking asshole who pushes their opinions, thinks they are always right and doesn’t understand why people have such thin skin and can’t take an argument. Just because you have thick skin doesn’t mean you can repeat, “IF YOU CAN’T TAKE THE HEAT!” over and over. Because eventually nobody can take the heat. Because you set yourself on fire. Metaphorically of course.
It’s absolutely true that people need to not take their viewpoints so personal, even when it’s stuff they love or have spent a lot of time about. But you can’t tell a person to stop feeling how they feel. The onus is on you to empathize and recognize you’re not debating with someone on your emotionally stable level.
And yes, there are a lot of Walter Sobchak’s out there who tell people how stupid they are for liking a movie or videogame or band or TV show. There’s a hyperlink people have been linking to called “Who to unfriend on Facebook” that takes you to a list of everyone on your Friends list who admits to liking Nickelback. Because it doesn’t matter how funny or caring or nice you are. Liking Nickelback is a fair reason to disassociate with someone in a lot of circles. Most of this is just assumed playful but we’ve all heard, “If you like _______ you’re stupid.” I’ll go one further. I’ve definitely said it in the past.
Point being, there are a lot of people out there ready to judge you based on the things you like. And that leads to being defensive or maybe not being honest with the things you like. I’ve told people before that I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I don’t feel guilt for the things I like, even if it’s not in my age demographic or some might find it underneath my intellectual level. If I like it? I like it. That’s it. But there’s a flipside to this.
I’ve been finding it common for people to get very defensive and become the Dude. Where when you express an opinion of something that a person doesn’t agree with, when they don’t feel like explaining themselves they just goto how it’s an opinion. “It’s my opinion. Well I like it”. And honestly I feel like this is just as bad as the Walter’s who aggressively argue their opinions. There’s this immediate belief that just because I don’t like what you like, I’m judging you. Now as I’ve explained there’s good reason for it. There are people who immediately judge your character for what you like. And as I’ve said, I’ve done it in the past. But I find it odd that two people can’t discuss something without someone having to point out that it’s an opinion. As if it’s not established from the beginning of a discussion that two people are about to express opinions.
When you say you liked something to a person, nobody replies back, “Oh me too totally, but that’s just my opinion” or, “Oh I loved it too, but I mean, that’s just your opinion.” The reason is because there’s nothing to defend. There’s no guard that supposedly needs to be put up. This person agrees with you. But the moment they don’t? Folks are suddenly in some pressured state of defending the things they like because it defines who they are.
And that bothers me.
I’ve established it earlier and I’ll establish it again, I’ve been a perpetrator of attacking someone’s character for the things they like. I’ve also been a person who got defensive just because someone thought a thing I liked sucked. And there’s a lot of people out there who do go on the attack when you like something they feel is beneath them, or even worse, they feel the things you like are holding back higher levels of artistic merit that they like. This bizarre cosmic concept that your mother liking Two and a Half Men is why shows like Firefly didn’t last. Or that Monster Truck isn’t more popular because people still buy Nickelback CDs at Walmart. Or Madden 25 is why Braid didn’t sell 10 million copies. You know, “Blank is why things suck” irrationalities. But what bothers me above all else is that it doesn’t feel like very many people are prepared to try and look at these discussions from a much more sensible level.
A disagreement of opinion should never be a Walter and Dude situation. Ever. It should be two people trying to discover why they differ in opinion. What about their lives that led them to these viewpoints. To understand through their likes and dislikes why they don’t agree with this current opinion. It should also not have to be established at any point that the disagreement is a matter of opinion. That would be like a reporter asking a hockey player why they felt the game was lost and their response is, “Well yeah it was a loss but it’s hockey.” We know what it is. The disagreement isn’t about what you think but why. We rarely ever discuss the why because we’re too afraid of people’s disagreement turning into contempt.
I don’t want to be Walter. I don’t want to be the Dude. Don’t think I want to be Donny very much either, cut off at every point. It would just be nice to be able to say, “I think that sucks” without the other person thinking I’m saying they suck for liking it. I’m not stating how you feel. Just me. And I really shouldn’t have to establish that either.
Too much time is spent trying to explain to people things everyone should already recognize from the start. And I know why, but it’s still something I don’t shut up about.
Photo is a screen capture from The Big Lebowski