It’s Okay: Not To Have An Opinion About Everything
It’s time to normalize saying ‘I don’t know,’ and being quiet for long enough to learn and let others be heard.
In It’s Okay, we defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.
In the age of social media, 280 characters on Twitter is often seen as enough to weigh in on almost every issue under the sun. The new Taylor Swift album sucks? No problem, here’s a scathing take. A celebrity stayed silent on an issue that’s trending? Here’s how they’re complicit. Farmers are protesting against new bills that have been passed? Well of course they’re anti-national. Someone disagreed with a take you posted? Well, they’re simply dumbfucks.
An onslaught of bite-sized opinions about a thousand different issues comes at us every single day on social media platforms — some celebrations, some battle cries, some outrages. A majority of these opinions are not coming from experts —- even on layered issues such as human rights, politics, medicine, economics — but from laypeople attempting to, or pretending to, understand some nugget of a bigger phenomenon they don’t have much idea about, either theoretically or experientially. But this onslaught of opinions only pressures individuals to choose a side, post a take, have an opinion. We live in an era where silence on any issue is equal to complicity, and not having an opinion about something signals ignorance. In short, saying ‘I don’t know enough’ isn’t an option most days.
This phenomenon is a symptom of the way in which we consume news, information, and process world events. This usually happens at lightning speed online, with news organizations, pundits, and regular users rushing to get their take in under the wire before another hot-button issue replaces the previous one in an unforgiving news cycle. This rush is not conducive to accuracy, depth or nuance — see the alt rise of slow journalism — but it is what we’ve mandated as a society, at least in the mainstream. And amidst the frenzy, people are required to process half-baked information, to form rushed half-baked opinions, in an exercise that every day becomes less and less about staying informed, and more and more about its performance.
This pervasiveness of social media then means this phenomenon — of having to form and voice opinions, constantly evaluating people and events while feeling constantly evaluated by others — also spills into offline lives. When IRL discussions — be it in the workplace, among family and friends, or with like-minded communities — revolve around social media chatter (including that which surrounds news), they tend to take on a similar knee-jerk character we see online. It compromises the depth of in-person conversations, with social media already having rendered us a tad bit more intolerant, reactionary and superficial.
But what if you don’t want to form an opinion, or don’t feel comfortable doing so, or don’t know enough to? Well, that’s okay. Research shows we exist in a state of constant overexposure, to people, problems, and issues. This means our ability to empathize or care about something (long enough to form an opinion about it), is compromised, as we choose to preserve some semblance of energy for our routine lives. Between work and family, the average person probably has time to care about one or two more things before they reach maximum emotional and mental capacity. This could be climate change, Islamophobia, queer rights, the democratization of education, or casteism (or a thousand other things). But for that one individual’s care and opinion to matter, it cannot encompass all of these things at once, simply because humans are not programmed to care about everything all the time, especially if the issue doesn’t hit close to home.
In real life, this balances out — human beings coming from different cultures and regions care about different things, express a desire to further different issues, especially in their own vicinity, negating the need for them to try and effect change somewhere far away.
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But online, in a connected, globalized space, where everyone is talking about everything all at once, we run the risk of seeming apolitical to others. But the perception that a person is apolitical unless fast and loud about their opinions is one that’s flawed, and it is actually hurting social justice movements. Take, for example, how brands or celebrities are called upon to amplify issues because of their influence and reach, otherwise derided for staying silent and spineless. But do we really need the likes of Priyanka Chopra or Nykaa, despite their immense followers, speaking about caste atrocities, communal tensions, or human rights? Or should we work toward an online environment in which people who amplify real issues are the go-to people for information on said issues, instead of celebrities that more often than not are simply (paid) talking heads?
The compulsion of having to voice an opinion — no matter how far the issue is from your personal life and thoughts — actually contributes to the noise we’ve come to consider synonymous with social media. And yes, the noise does serve a purpose — it creates awareness, gets people talking, takes the first step. But this noise also fails to move any conversation forward — it dilutes messaging from people whose voice actually matters on any given issue, buried under the pretenses of those (often privileged groups) performing allyship or understanding, lest they be hung out to dry in public.
It’s okay not to know everything, and it’s okay not to have an opinion all the time. We’re all apolitical about something or the other, and voicing a pseudo-intellectual opinion online — one that has all the right buzzwords, but little of the nuance that’s required to find solutions — might change how others view us but is not going to change the apolitical nature of said opinion. We need to normalize saying ‘I don’t know,’ to sit down and shut up for long enough to let someone who knows what they’re talking about be heard, and be able to teach us a thing or two.
This change is important because our opinions aren’t all that original, or accurate. Research shows we’re more likely to consider as fact something said by a person we know to share our beliefs and values — a process that is, for example, seamlessly facilitated by the creation of echo chambers on social media aided by algorithms working to confirm our biases. Our opinions are also vulnerable to externalities outside of the fact — who is stating it, how they’re stating it, and how many are stating it. For example, research shows if a person is denouncing a product by using curse words (displaying a strong, aggressive opinion), one’s opinions about the product can nosedive, even if they didn’t come to that conclusion themselves.
On social media, opinions are not only a dime a dozen, but they’re also fickle. What is lacking is knowledge, a phenomenon that’s ironic looking at how social media was first lauded to bring about unprecedented democratization of information. Unfortunately, it’s the combination of the two we need — informed opinions — that are still a rare sight, both for us to voice online, and to be able to insert in more robust dialogue offline. So, take a beat, figure out what you really care about, and see which opinions you’d rather form. We need more people who know enough about some things, and fewer who purport to know everything about everything. Hopefully, in the silence that ensues, you might hear something valuable.
You’ll be alright.
Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle's Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she's interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team's podcast, Respectfully Disagree.