Opinions and Body Parts

[Be forewarned, this one includes some crassness…]

It would appear that mankind is never at a loss for words. We like to hear the sound of our own voice. From the lowliest fool to the loftiest prince, humanity always believes it is entitled to its opinion. As Americans, we tout the 1st amendment as the holy of holies, and rightfully so. Oppressed speech is dehumanizing.
Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion…
But here’s a thought – try to have an educated, informed one.
Supporting Corollary – God gave you two ears and one mouth, which certainly means that you should listen twice as much as you speak.

Opinions are like elbows and “another part of the anatomy.” Everybody has one. (I am fully aware that there are an unfortunate few who were born without full arms. I’m assuming that if anyone was born without the said “another part of the anatomy”, that person more than likely perish hours after birth unless some emergency surgery took place, I’m not aware of this type of a medical event taking place, I could be wrong, I might be ignorant, please disregard for the sake of the metaphor.) Elbows are quite useful in assisting the arms to manipulate and articulate movement. The said “another part of the anatomy” is also useful, as an orifice used to eliminate bodily waste. Otherwise, an individual would be continuously full of crap. Sorry for such a crass metaphor. But let’s face it. How many of us know a few folks who spout out nothing but loads and loads of crap? Nothing in of itself very useful. The problem is that the crap is being eliminated from the WRONG orifice!

Most opinion is conjecture, (if not weighted down with hyperbole.) This in itself is not a bad thing. The scientific method begins with conjecture, if based on good observation. Therein lies the problem. How many opinions being spouted out by the masses are based on educated deduction and not assumption? And how many opinions are simultaneously vulnerable and robust enough to be tempered, even transformed, when another opinion challenges it?

On a daily basis, we are bombarded moment by moment by the steady flow of opinions from numerous people on various mediums. How often are our opinions formed by a smorgasbord of untested ideas from people we don’t know and probably wouldn’t care about if we actually really knew them?

You can never really know exactly what the public at large is thinking. If you take ten people off the street, whom you think all have the same opinion on an issue, and have them discuss their issues, take away any kind of demagogic individual in a group discussion, and you will find that they all have different frames of reference regarding the issue. All of them have different stakes. Different perspectives. Different contexts. Different risks. Some opinions might accurately represent society as a whole, or might not.

In no way, shape or form am I saying that one shouldn’t have an opinion. First of all, that would be impossible. Second, to say that would be hypocritical, because I’m sharing my opinions on a blog. What I am trying to convey is that too often our beliefs are based on the untested opinions of random people whom we may or may not want to be influenced by. We don’t take the time to critically test the opinions we form that are influenced by the untested opinions of others! We sometimes mistake having a conviction with untested passionate propaganda.

When confronted with a difference of opinion, what is usually the outcome? Well, it depends on the individual characters of those who have the differences of opinion. A lot of time, argument and discord ensues. (Argument in and of itself is not bad. The original idea of argument is “to persuade.” A lot of arguments I’m referring to do not fall under that category.) If one of the individuals happen to have a modicum of maturity, then the discussion can usually be steered in a civil direction. Maturity displayed in this example is “having your opinions and beliefs challenged without feeling personally attacked.” A quote by Dave Willis — “One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still being respectful.” And Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated, “Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.” [Thanks to Melissa Crawford for helping me find these quotes.] I found this one…”In all tests of character, when two viewpoints are pitted against each other, in the final analysis, the thing that will strike you the most is not who was right or wrong, strong or weak, wise or foolish… but who went to the greater length in considering the other’s perspective.” Mike Dooley

We are all different, and we express ourselves through opinions. Sometimes we should critically analyze our opinions. Sometimes we need to withhold our opinion. Sometimes we need to maturely discuss and even argue our opinions. To argue is not to battle with words, and the winner comes out on top. No, to argue is to state ones opinion with the good faith that the other party will listen, providing that in due turn you will also listen to the other party’s opinion. With this in mind, you “seek first to understand, then be understood.” (Stephen Covey, habit 4) The solutions to our problems are not due to some intangible force “out there”, but upon our being willing to be vulnerable, responsible, visionary, and purposeful. This is done in harmony with the one who sits across the table from you, who at one time you viewed as your adversary, but is now required of you to view as your friend.

The Leader’s Posture of Understanding

I wrote in an earlier post about Stephen Covey’s habit, Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. Taking the time to understand another party is so important in setting the stage of building trust. If I don’t show any interest or effort in trying to understand you, why should you trust me? Especially if I am someone in a leadership position who will be attempting to move you in a agreed upon direction.

If we have a difference of opinion or perspective that is causing friction and inhibiting progress and momentum, then this difference needs to be addressed. Maybe the incorrect position is mine, maybe it’s not. Regardless, to reach an agreement, the differences must be discussed, and I need to hear you out, and you need to hear me out. As a leader, I should defer and make every attempt to understand your position first. To understand you requires, once again, some vulnerability and proximity. I will be “standing under” you. This requires a moment of submission, while I put my preconceived notions aside and listen without prejudice. I can’t do this at a distance. I must let you in, and you must let me in. But the leader takes the initiative in vulnerability.

Understanding means taking the time to seeing the matter at hand from the perspective of the other. I have to get into their context. “I see where you’re coming from.” It involves walking a mile in their moccasins. It requires some humility. Only once you have given your position and I have made every attempt to see it as you do, can I then give my perspective. By truly listening and understanding you, hopefully I have purchased the right for my perspective to be listened to and understood by you. Then, and only then, can a proper resolution be made. This resolution has a higher potential to be a win-win, rather than a one sided victory.

Empathy also comes into play. Not only must I see your perspective, I must feel it as well. In fact, one might venture to say that I can’t really see your perspective until I feel it. This takes much discipline, because empathy is a scarce tool in people’s emotional toolbox these days. Patience comes into play, as also the idea of being present in the moment. This can’t be rushed.

It’s also helpful that I, as the leader, approach the issue with an optimistic mindset, rather than a cynical one. I should give the you the benefit of the doubt. I should believe that you have the best interests of both parties at heart. Being shrewd is always recommended, (Jesus told his followers to be shrewd as serpents AND gentle as doves,) but a gentle hope in the other party complements any caution one might have coming to the table. Do your homework, be mindful, alert and aware, and take the time to be discerning. If any pretension is truly present, it will come to light .

Taking the time to understand the other is one of the best investments in fostering trust. Trust still remains one of the three core values needed to influence others. Take the time to stand under your people. This is the true posture of servant leadership.