Imagine bringing up a photo of the universe on your phone.
As you begin to zoom into what you perceive the middle of the photo to be, you find yourself zooming in to no end.
The landscape of our alignment with ideas and identities seems to be the same; of an infinite resolution. We can thereby come close to being in the middle, but seem to constantly miss the mark by just a little bit.
This article assumes there to be a difference between not having an opinion and having an opinion which is indifferent. This is written to motivate you to practice, as best you can, not being on the spectrum of all possible opinions on an issue or topic of your choice. Being “on the fence,” or, “ in between,” is often used as a claim to being impartial and objective. What’s missing from those claims however, is the understanding that the “middle,” is perhaps in a state of endlessness, without a precise location to be found.
This article seeks to communicate the benefits of not aligning yourself with any one opinion or identity surrounding topics / issues.
The hope is to connect the tendency of not having an opinion, when others look to you for one, with certain benefits as they relate to influencing those around you.
Rather than claiming to be objective, try not claiming to be anything at all once in a while. Observe those who claim to be on one side of an issue, and those on the other. Observe those who claim to be holding an impartial opinion of certain issues and observe those who, just like you, observe this spectrum of opinion from a bird’s eye view.
The following, are points which attempt to communicate the effects you’ll have on others if you make an exercise out of not having an opinion when others expect you to.
Discovery and Realignment Are Different in How They’re Perceived
It seems easier to teach a person something brand new than it is to realign their position on something they’re already opinionated about.
As you practice freeing yourself from holding an opinion on trivial topics of conversation, those around you will view you as a blank canvas to paint on.
Rather than attempting to sway your opinion, they’ll operate from a place of trying to form it.
It seems that people are less pressing in their attempts to spread their own opinion when they don’t view you as already holding one. As if attempting to guide you on a discovery of truth, they’ll tend to be more tender than if they were attempting to prove your already formed opinion wrong.
The exercise consists of thoroughly attempting to be free of an opinion on certain matters of your choice. Try not to fall anywhere on the spectrum of all possible opinions. As if zooming out of the map of all opinions, envision yourself levitating away. Zoom out of the map until the map of all opinions people hold on a matter of your choice becomes a simple speck. Realize just how much extra space there is out there to be explored; space which those navigating the map of opinions seem to constantly forget about.
As those around you come to understand your thorough lack of possessing an opinion they so desperately want you to possess, they’ll begin to work you. They’ll massage you, and they will mold your malleable perception. They’ll try to bring you comfort, and they’ll maybe try to elicit fear.
Notice the ways that people try to get you to agree.
Perhaps the most important finding that this exercise shines light on, is the clarity with which you’ll analyze people operating with bias, and just how desperate others are to get someone to agree.
Admitting to Not Knowing Enough vs. Insinuating to Knowing a Lot
You’ll be asked why you don’t have an opinion on certain things. When you do, simply say, “I just don’t know enough about the topic / situation.” That reason is a simple, yet powerful, evoker of respect from others. Especially if they’ve anticipated you to hold a vehement opinion, that answer would come as a surprise.
The ones we anticipate to know a lot, gain our respect when they admit to not knowing enough to hold a valid opinion on a topic. “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” is a quote you’ve likely heard. The admission of not knowing is often misinterpreted as a disclosure of not learning. The exercise of ridding yourself of all opinion surrounding a specified topic will teach you that admitting to not knowing is a necessary step in many parts of life. It’ll teach you to become okay with that admission, and will entice those around you to consider you as a careful thinker.
You’ll earn the respect of those who’ve known that they do not know, but failed to admit it in the past.
They’ll respect your intellectual humility, and will be enticed to follow suit. You’ll notice your conversations with them begin to balance out, from an opinionated standpoint. Rather than forcibly pulling them in, you’ll serve to subtly entice them toward the happy medium of opinionated conversation. By not having an opinion, and by admitting to your lack of knowledge, they’ll be encouraged to smoothen the edges of their own opinionated rhetoric. Being around someone who is wise enough to advertise their lack of knowledge entices us to wisen up ourselves.
Adopting An Identity Abandons Choice
Take a moment to think about the categories which you label people by inside your own mind.
There are people who are talented artists, ones who are skilled at public speaking, and those who are business savvy. Putting these labels on others aids our day-to-day lives; giving us a list of people to go to when we need help or services in specific domains. It allows us to seek advice from the right people and serves as a referral tool for when we need to provide a recommendation.
There are various benefits in labeling and categorizing others in life. However, being labeled yourself can comes with seldom-mentioned negative barriers to overcome.
A certain sensitivity around this topic is demanded as you can feel the effects of that label far into the future. They can set you up for failure, and can ruin first impressions. These labels can put up a barrier against opportunities which catch your interest but do not match what others perceive you to be.
Settling into a specified label is one of many reasons why changing careers is difficult to pull off. Breaking down the walls of your labels is more difficult than establishing them in the first place.
Stuck in an Identity
One of the major risks in being labelled as skilled in a particular aspect of life is that you are not able to control when that label is valid and when it is dormant. This lack of control means you cannot willingly put a stop to being identified as something you don’t want to be identified as.
You may have experienced this with the childhood stories that your parents told family friends, and may have been stuck in a label because of the anecdotes they’ve told.
At work, you can be labelled as the person who is a sociable leader because of your ability to steer meetings in a positive and productive direction. This label, like many others, often stems from positive intentions from the ones who label you. However, this label would force you to play the role of the sociable leader when everyone else fears doing so.
When times are tough, your labels can morph into curses, as people desperately look for others to fix urgent issues around them.
The labels which you once thought of as harmless compliments can grow to force you to play a role, perhaps with tremendous expectation attached.
The labels placed on you, can not only be stuck with you, but can set you up for failure. A label can manifest itself into false expectations, thereby not making you deliver on the promises that others expect you to involuntarily make.
The Unknown Potential
Say you decide to have a cigarette on your lunch break one day. Smoking is seen as an unhealthy and somewhat dirty habit by some, if not most. While having your peaceful moment, someone from the office recognizes you and comes up to say hello. “I didn’t know you smoked,” they say. This label, which has been established in the mind of your colleague, is inherently neither positive or negative. However, the preconceived notions of those who hear about it can turn this label into whatever suits them best.
If a cute girl in the office also smokes, and hears about your smoking habit, she may ask if you’d mind having a partner in crime during your lunch breaks. This would be your label manifesting itself in a positive way. However, if your manager’s father died of lung cancer from years of smoking and caused them to feel tremendous grief and resentment toward the act of smoking, they may view your habit in a different light.
You cannot control how others perceive the labels put on you, so the fate of how others perceive these labels is up to chance. An argument can be made to not strive to be labelled in life, no matter how positive the label seems to be. Truth, in the minds of humans is more subjective than we like to believe, and your labels may be truly negative in the mind of another.
Some Ways to Make Labels Less Clingy:
- Downplay others’ interpretation of your skills
- Don’t show exuberant pride in what you’re good at / your quirks
- Don’t let your positive history define you
- Label your excellent performances to be lucky
- Be humble to a point of denying others’ positive attempts to label you as talented
- Don’t be predictable in what you prefer to do at work