Last weekend, my brother finally graduated from college (wooo!) and I went down to Seattle to celebrate with family and friends. As the conversations meandered through the day, eventually this blog came up and, for some reason, I got really uncomfortable talking about it. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten uncomfortable talking about my writing but this time it really bothered me and I’ve been thinking about it more and more. After talking with a friend recently, I think I’ve pinned down why it’s been stuck in the back of my mind. Aaron and I talked about the relationship between writing and vulnerability and our culture’s unwillingness to own an idea or opinion.
Writing is an inherently vulnerable act. I am taking my thoughts, usually inwardly focused, and making them publicly known. This is hard for me. It’s one of the reasons I started writing in the first place, to make my thoughts more outwardly focused. When I put my opinions into the public realm, it opens the door for engagement with other people and their opinions, something that is equally exciting and frightening.
It’s not that I don’t want to engage with others. The opposite is true, I welcome conversation and want to learn from other perspectives. Writing provides a certain amount of safety when being vulnerable. I’m able to fully form my opinions on the page before revealing them to the world. If someone writes back, I can take my time to respond. But when I am talking to someone face to face about the very same things I wrote about, I become closed off and uncomfortable. I am unable or unwilling to become vulnerable when confronted with conversation in person.
I think our culture has created an environment where people are afraid to take ownership of their opinions. So often I hear people talking about the opinions of someone else but don’t bother forming or sharing their opinions. “I read this guy who had this opinion, he thinks this and that.” Well, what do you think about that? We’ve become so afraid to assert our own opinions for fear of offending someone else or sounding uneducated, arrogant, ignorant, (insert social fear here). That fear is not entirely irrational, there is something to be said for courtesy and civility. But where is the line between a unique individual with valuable thoughts and an individual who simply regurgitates the opinions of those around them?
Something Aaron and I talked about was creating a posture of listening while writing. When conversing with someone, I’m much more likely to listen to them if I feel like they’re listening to me. If we transfer that principle to writing, the question becomes, “how am I listening to my audience when writing?” For something like this blog, where conversation is facilitated by comments and sharing, listening could look like making sure I’m responding to others as they engage with my writing. But in general, am I considering other viewpoints and leaving room for my own viewpoint to grow and change? I can form an opinion and stick to it but I close the door to conversation if I refuse to consider other ways of thinking. It’s a fine line to walk.
I hope that I’ve created an atmosphere here where you, the reader, feel comfortable enough to engage with my writing. I promise to work on being more vulnerable, both here and in person, and to make sure I’m keeping the door open for new ideas and viewpoints. That doorway is a two way street. Are you forming your own opinions and what are you doing to make sure you are being heard? Don’t stop reading and listening to others. Just make sure that you’re digging deep into those things that matter instead of taking everything at face value. Your opinions matter to me and they should matter to you.