It’s funny, sometimes, how the way we see ourselves and the way other people see us can be so radically different. This is something I’ve often pondered, since I was a teen–the old song line, You never know just how you look/ through other people’s eyes comes to mind–but it was recently brought home again when I attended a recurring social event and someone (who’s only met me twice, and in the context of talking about books!) referred to me as a person with “strong opinions.”
It’s not the first time I’ve been described as such–though mostly since my mid-to-late 20s–and it always makes me laugh, because it’s really not how I think of myself at all. I guess when I think of people with “strong opinions,” I think of people who aren’t willing to listen to guidance, or cede an argument when presented with new information? Or, maybe, people who enjoy arguments and intentionally try to foment dissent at social gatherings as a form of, like, amusement, and that’s not my bag at all.
I consider myself more of a pacifist–a mediator and negotiator in personality, someone who prefers to avoid conflict if possible, but if it becomes unavoidable, I prefer to opt for communication resolving in peaceful resolution first and foremost. I have what’s often been called a naive belief in the innate goodness of humankind, and I truly believe the majority of people mean well, it’s just, we have different ideas of how to achieve it.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize the behaviors I exhibit which are often described, “bold,” or “outspoken,” or, “strong-minded” are just enthusiasm. I get really enthusiastic about things … books, Harry Potter, income inequality, motorcycling history, labor law, Star Trek, board games, writing, the publishing industry.
Like, super enthusiastic. And when I get enthusiastic about a topic, I research it backwards and forwards and up and down, like a super nerd. I read about it, I think about it, I talk about it. I daydream about it, come up with theories, and link it to other things I’m enthusiastic about.
Now, just like anyone else, I don’t randomly bring up this stuff at inappropriate times–I’m not sitting at, like, work functions rambling on about esoteric factoids regarding labor law history to a bunch of dull-eyed coworkers and/or clients. No.
But … I mean, yeah, I have been at, say, book club, and waxed intense about my feelings on a book. Or book series. Occasionally in a very detailed breakdown of the plot structure and the flaws therein (like writing a book where the overriding relationship question was resolved in the first THIRD of the book, thereby completely nullifying any plot tension for the remaining 2/3 of the book, OUTLANDER 2).
Also, I’ll plead guilty to, say, standing around at some dull social function, participating in make-nice chit-chat, and I hear someone make a reference to a shared topic of interest, so of course I gravitate over, because hey. Interesting conversation thataway.
And sometimes I’ll share an interesting factoid–like, maybe telling a fellow motorcycle fan that the Indian Motorcycle company was a casualty of WWII, and explaining why; or mentioning in addendum to some anecdote about marketing or customer service that, The customer is always right is actually based on a 1920s marketing slogan rather than any sort of overriding consumer ethos, because my general assumptions are that history is cool, trivia is fun, and most people enjoy learning new things.
I think this is where the bold/ outspoken/ opinionated impressions come from. It’s interactions–like casual social gatherings, or seminars where we’re explicitly discussing reactions to readings, or classroom settings where discussion is encouraged–where I feel comfortable, because of the context of the situation, in voicing my opinion and why I believe as I do.
When I was a kid/ teenager, whenever I wanted to do something my parents were uncomfortable or ambivalent about, my dad’s thing was for me to argue my case. I guess it’s a lawyer thing. He would tell me if I could come up with a convincing list of pros and cons–because a good lawyer has to understand both sides of the situation in order to rebut the opposing argument–then he’d consider my request. That’s actually how I negotiated most of my teen concessions.
So I do feel pretty comfortable examining an issue thoroughly, from all sides, and coming to a conclusion regarding my stance. Thanks to great parents and some fantastic professors over the years, I’ve also learned how to organize my supporting arguments when participating in a discussion so I can support my stance, and I’m comfortable revising my stance in light of new information which may alter my perspective.
All that said, I really do not like debate or disagreement, especially outside the specific parameters of the classroom (where it’s moderated and all are working from the same base reading material). This is one of the factors in me deciding not to pursue a law degree (though hardly the only).
I know that might seem incredible to someone who’s only knowledge of me is this blog, but it’s important to recognize the words on this screen are on stream-of-conscious, largely unedited personal blog–this on-the-fly verbiage represents my internal world, and while the values of fairness and equality espoused herein aligns with my real-world values, beliefs, and general behavior, there’s a pretty key difference–I’m a lot more polite and in real life.
Call it esprit de l’escalier, or a lifetime of gender conditioning, or empathy from having been bullied myself. Whatever it is, the sometimes pointed language I use on this blog when venting about disagreements doesn’t come into play during personal disagreements. I believe there’s no need to get insulting or derogatory during a conflict–any resolution to the disagreement will hinge on the facts of the situation, not he said/ she said opinions on character.
So it’s funny, because when someone describes me as, “bold,” or “opinionated,” or “outspoken,” I hear “argumentative,” or “rude,” or “disruptive,” and I automatically flinch away from those descriptions–they feel weird and uncomfortable to me. I pride myself on my ability to be civil, pleasant, cordial, and generous in personal interactions. Sure, I’ve sometimes felt frustration at walking away from an encounter where someone was rude or derogatory to me and I didn’t yell back–I’ve thought to myself, coward, wimp, chickenshit.
But far more often, I’ve felt satisfaction at my ability to not only remain calm and collected in response to instigation, but when I’ve successfully de-escalated a potentially explosive situation. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not more of a fighter. But mostly I’m glad I gravitate to peacemaker. But I suppose it’s all in interpretations–here I’ve been thinking bold/ opinionated/ outspoken equates to argumentative, when really, those could just as easily describe traits of enthusiasm and mediation. After all, enthusiastic people will come across as opinionated and outspoken, and a mediator personality has to be able to have strong boundaries in order to mediate–its impossible to mediate if you can’t negotiate, set, or enforce fair boundaries. So those are strength characteristics, too.