Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, September 12, 2008

"...end of discussion, no question!!"

Why do we do it? The subject vexing me today is very definite sounding people. They annoy me. My worst self mumbles against them and uses words like, "Bloody know-alls!". My best self asks the question why do they feel that they have to sound like that? It seems to be an affliction that is often found in men, but not exclusively so.

Let me give you a "safe" example. A lot of firemen were very generous in January and came out and cut down two massive trees on my property. One was a gum tree, the other a poplar tree. The question was asked what should we do with the poplar wood. Several came up with a very definite answer. "It is useless as a firewood! We will just dump it!" Their tone, body language and gestures all said, "end of discussion, no question...that's it." Well I am partial to any free firewood, no matter how cool burning it is, and I managed to get them to save quite a heap of it. In my opinion, while not as hot as many other woods, and leaving quite a bit of ash, it is still an OK free firewood that dries quickly. For my purposes it is fine... I will accept for their purposes and their economy it may be a waste of time, but it is a matter of opinion, perspective and circumstance. Why do they need to sound so definite about their experience and generalise it? Another issue came up. I was told in definite terms, that I would have to split all the wood very quickly. "In six months time it will be impossible to split! Hire a machine and do it." It is eight months down the track and the wood is splitting just as easy, and possibly even easier than when it was first cut. Again, it was said in a definite, no question, dogmatic way! It is so often the way we men feel we have to state our opinions. For some reason we feel we must sound strong, definite and knowledgeable. I commented at the fire station the other day that... "I have learned that if I wanted to know anything I just had to ask, and there would be firemen who would tell me the answer." Then I added, "Whether they actually know the answer or not!"

Over the years I have attended endless church board meetings, meetings of community groups and heaps of discussion groups. Again and again conversation, discussion and exploration is stifled by this sort of "end of discussion, definite, no nonsense" way of expressing opinions. You can be discussing a new project and someone will say..."You cant do it, (such and such) wont allow it!" Why cant you say, "You may find that an obstacle you have to get through is...." and leave the floor open for other perspectives and options. Why not say for instance, "In my experience I have found poplar wood to be cooler than I want a wood to be".... or whatever? It still leaves the door open for a different experience or perspective. Some how we think it sounds manly to be dogmatic. It takes a strong person to question it. It often brings about destructive conflict because people of a different opinion feel they have to be just as belligerent back again. Often it leaves quieter people with different opinions feeling like they don't matter, and they are left out. Sometimes truly wise people's opinion is lost. It stifles growth and exploration and lateral thinking. Creativity is squashed. Why do we do it? Often I find it is a way we mask our own inner insecurity. Like the preacher who had in the notes of his sermon, "Argument weak here, shout louder!" Sometimes it is like an old lion still wanting to roar and say, "I am still here!"

Why do we have to share our opinions as if they were indisputable facts? It takes only a little extra thought to reword them, still share our opinion, but allow others to have their perspective heard. I believe it is helpful to remember to share our opinions, as opinions. There is a big difference in what it does for the people sharing the conversation with us.

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