By Nadia Schmidtke
“All I am saying is that I’d rather give all that money to green energy research or something,” said my acquaintance.
I nodded weakly. It makes sense that billionaires should spend money on something important, rather than a self-indulgent trip to space. But maybe they already do? Maybe space tourism is good for humanity. I don’t know.
I didn’t say anything. There was an energetic pull in the room longing me to agree. Heck, some juicy disagreement would’ve sufficed. But I wanted something different from this conversation that I keep having. From discussing climate change, social media, and tech billionaires to edgy takes on cryptocurrency; the mood feels stodgy, thick, and unenlightening.
She looked at me while starting again, prompting me to voice my opinion. I didn’t say anything. Things got awkward for a minute.
It’s not that I don’t have opinions. I have opinions about opinions. And issues of human rights and social justice are more than a matter of opinion. Our opinions have power: they reach up to influence laws and down to change how we perceive ourselves and our experiences.
Perhaps it is exactly this importance of opinions which primes us to be ready with ours. I am in the habit of arming myself with short, PR-Esque phrases on issues:
“We should lower taxes for the disappearing middle-class and tax the rich more.”
“Having plastic surgery shouldn’t be stigmatized. It makes sense as society demands that we be effortlessly gorgeous.”
“Serial killer documentaries should talk about the victims’ lives more than the killers’. Serial killers shouldn’t be infamous celebrities.”
The problem is that the opinions highway is clogged. It seems that having an opinion is more important than the content itself. It’s like life imitating social media. Our views are like the Harry Potter sorting hat deciding where we belong. Or rather, where we don’t.
So, is spending huge sums of money on a rare trip to space a waste? I dared not to have an opinion.
In the silence, I felt vulnerable and exposed. I wanted to connect with her regardless of her opinion. As interesting as it can be to talk about, having to have an opinion on everything all of the time feels like heavy armour. I wanted to put it down.
There is much to be divided about. Talking about our shared human experience is needed to make connections and start dialogues instead of debates. Let’s remember the person behind the opinion and find threads of feelings and experiences that we share. It’s worth it.
“Does that Xbox work?” I asked. She looked at me curiously and said “I think so.” It didn’t but checking it out together was invigorating. We spent the afternoon talking about how you need the luxury of time to play games. We spoke about space tourism and billionaires. But it was a discussion and not a test. This time I felt connected to her, rather than stressed out about whether the opinion sorting hat put us into the same house.
Nadia is a freelance writer, master’s graduate, and recovering English teacher. She has written about mental health and lives in sunny South Africa where it’s getting really hot.