The Art Of Sitting On The Fence


I’m a huge advocate of Freedom of Speech. I absolutely wholeheartedly believe that everybody is entitled to their own opinion, even if I personally find that opinion particularly abhorrent. Some people though, seem to think this means they have a right to voice that opinion anytime they please, and that is where I start to take issue. There isn’t much you can do about that of course – there are downsides to giving people freedom that you just have to take on the chin. But when I overhear someone using ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse for basically being an asshole, it really gets my blood boiling.

How often do you hear people use the phrase ‘I’m just being honest!’ when they’re trying to justify the spiteful comment or offensive belief they’ve just delivered? As though because they honestly believe what they are saying it was ok to say it? They think it makes them a better person, because when we’re little we’re taught not to lie, so they’re doing their duty as a decent human being by educating everyone about how they personally feel on any given matter. They think that anyone who doesn’t also do this is ‘fake’ or ‘weak’. But we got taught something else when we were little too – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Just because you have a right to an opinion doesn’t mean it’s always right to vocalise it, and sometimes keeping your opinions to yourself makes you the bigger person.

Sometimes telling someone your thoughts on an issue has value, even when negative – you might help someone find an answer to something they’ve been struggling to come to or change their mind and see the error of their ways. Sometimes though, all your opinion does is make them feel bad or sad, so really you need to ask the question – is your opinion actually needed?  Or wanted? The way I see it, there are three important things to consider:

Is your insight actually helpful?

If your friend turns up to a Wedding in a dress that doesn’t suit her, should you tell her? Some might say yes – honesty is the best policy and it’s better that she knows so that she doesn’t wear it again. But let’s just think about it again – it’s not like she can go home and get changed is it? So are you actually helping her by pointing out that she looks a bit fat? She’s just going to feel like crap for the rest of the day and probably regretful that she’s spent a lot of money on something she’s not going to wear again. Is she really going to say, ‘Gosh, you are so right, I DO look fat, don’t I?! Thank you so much for being honest, I feel so much better now that I know the truth!’ Of course she isn’t, she’s probably going to go and have a cry in the toilets and miss the first dance. And when she finally breaks up with the boyfriend you hated because he cheated on her again, is it particularly helpful to tell her “I think it serves you right, I told you he was a w****r last time he did it but you got back with him anyway.” What is she meant to do with that helpful bit of sage advice? Invent a time machine and go back and listen to you?? ‘I told you so’ is the least helpful phrase I know, it serves only to make YOU feel better, and if you think otherwise, you’re kidding yourself. If no good is going to come from what you have to say, it is probably best not to say it. You don’t have to lie, just don’t say anything at all.

Has anyone actually asked for your opinion?

When asked outright for your opinion of course you should be honest. It can be tricky doing so sometimes without hurting someone’s feelings (not impossible though, just think before you speak!) and it’s quite possible they won’t want to hear what you have to say. They have to accept that though, because they asked and you answered, that’s how it works. They don’t have to accept it though if they never invited your input in the first place. If your sister is excited about the concert tickets she just bought, there really is no need to tell her what a pile of poop you think that band is. When someone you know at work posts a link to a JustGiving page politely asking if people might take a moment to consider sponsoring them for charity, it isn’t an invitation to post a three page response about how dreadful you think that charity is and why anyone who supports them is an idiot. I had to take a three day break from Facebook after the Paris attacks because I couldn’t stomach the volume of thoughtless and unwelcome comments on the status’ of those who dared to express sadness over what happened. Yes, you have a right to an opinion, and if you want to state that off your own back, go for it. But that doesn’t automatically give you the right to wade into someone else’s conversation to let them know they are WRONG GODDAMIT and mind numbingly stupid for thinking what they do. No-one likes a know-it-all, and if you are going to insist on doing this, don’t expect it to go down well.

Does anyone actually care what you think?

When my brother and his wife were pregnant with my eldest niece, they got to a point where they largely refused to discuss baby names with anyone outside the family or their closest friends. The reason for this was that everytime they told someone they like a particular name, the response was scarily frequently ‘Oh, I hate that name because I had a horrible aunt/smelly schoolmate/terrifying teacher with the same name…’ Everytime this happened it tainted the name somehow for them and they found themselves going off it, so after a while they gave up talking about it for fear of running out of options! I still to this day find it odd that so many people seem willing to offer up this information when it is completely irrelevant. So what if you don’t like that name? It isn’t your baby so it really doesn’t matter! It’s one of the reasons I was a little unsure about writing a blog that included photographs of myself – I’ve seen countless examples of bloggers writing a post about an outfit, for example, only to be told they are freakishly ugly or have stupid hair. How does that have anything to do with the outfit? I experienced it a lot when planning a Wedding too – I was shocked at how often I’d tell a near stranger about a particular detail I had organised and have them say ‘Oh I’d hate that! I think it’s really tacky/cliche/over the top!’ to which the only real response you can have is ‘Good job you aren’t coming then!!’ Similar to the first two points, none of this is useful, and does nothing but create an awkward silence at best, and at worst trigger an argument. If you are a decent human being, why would you want anyone to have to experience that? By feigning interest in someone’s kooky wedding plans or making polite conversation with your best mates other best mate that you can’t stand, you aren’t being fake, you are saving everyone the discomfort of sitting through a dinner where everyone around the table is either hurt by what you’ve said or mortified at what has just occurred. Some people seem to have an arrogant belief that people are genuinely interested in everything they have to say, and that they’re doing you a favour by telling you you’re doing it all wrong. News flash. You are not the centre of everyone’s universe, often no-one cares what you think, particularly when it has nothing to do with the situation in hand. Not saying anything here just makes you a nice person, not a fraud.

So I guess what I’m really trying to say is this – if you are guilty of any of the top three, you aren’t being ‘real’, you are being a bitch. If you are comfortable with that, then have the balls to own it and admit that you don’t really give a toss about anyone’s feelings but your own, rather than make out you’re a better person because you aren’t afraid to ‘say it like it is’. Personally, I would much rather be known as a diplomatic, kind ‘fake’ than an honest ‘real’ bitch. But that’s just my opinion!



2 thoughts on “The Art Of Sitting On The Fence

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