We all have our own (often strong) opinions on politics, religion, relationships, and so on. Offhand conversations no longer circle with ease around the water cooler at work. We take part in conversations about more serious issues and subject matters. Additionally, thanks to social media, sharing those beliefs is easier than ever. But when is it worth sharing opinions with others?

There was a time when topics about sex, religion, and death were “taboo.” They were simply not talked about with most. These days, the gloves are off and we go at it with anyone who disagrees. 

Trolls are part of the vicious mix of messages as well. For those who don’t know, trolls are people who pick fights on the internet just to distract or enrage another. I do my best not to engage with them, since it is a waste of my time and almost always manages to turn my stomach. These conversations are not worth the effort as changing that person’s mind is unlikely or sometimes virtually impossible. When pondering the question, “When is it worth sharing my opinion with others?” this is a prime example of a pointless interaction. On the rare occasion a troll shows up on my Facebook, I turn them away. Although, I do admit, it is interesting to watch the interaction between them and others on my page.

I am not the only person who bases their worldview on personal upbringing and resulting decisions. The older I become, the more opinionated I become. Though, I do have rules I abide by, including:

  • No name-calling, bullying.
  • No pigeon-holing based on religion, culture, national origin, gender presentation, sexual orientation, skin color, socio-economic status, political party, etc.
  • Take a breath before responding (if responding)
  • Ask myself why I’m responding: do I want to prove that I’m right or make the other person realize they are wrong? Am I seeking approval? Do I want to offer a different perspective?

That last one came into play as I lived it a few days ago. Someone I don’t know well asked me a question online. Apparently, they were actually just joking, but I wasn’t aware of that at the time. I thought the individual was asking a legitimate question about whether to take a pause on drinking. I gave feedback based on my own expertise and opinion as a therapist/addictions counselor: In other words, I responded by asking about their relationship with alcohol, explained the drinking culture today, and delved into social influences on drinking. Unfortunately, the person took offense, as they thought that I had the wrong impression of them. So, I reached out privately to apologize and discuss the subject matter at hand with them. We then seemed to understand each other’s perspective. 

That’s how I like to handle a disagreement—as opposed to a public fight, we discussed it calmly in private. Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s better to just stay quiet, especially on a public forum. So, if you can have a productive conversation, it probably is worth sharing your opinion with others. I think about the three gates through which our words should pass before being expressed: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? 

Another piece of guidance is the classic, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” My mother (like many mothers) preached this to me many years ago. Sometimes it has backfired, when I have allowed my people-pleasing trait to completely take over. As a practice, I consider how what I am about to say will be received. I ask how I would perceive it. Would I be offended? If it’s likely to offend or not be received well it probably isn’t worth sharing your opinion.

When I unwaveringly disagree with another, I remind myself that if I lived in their shoes, had the same upbringing and the same worldview, I might make the same choices as them. This comes especially in handy when going head-to-head with someone whose values have them supporting a destructive system. It is admittedly hard not to demonize them when they stand for much that I oppose. 

Being a considerate listener is part of it, too. Being truly present as one tells their story can lead to a deeper understanding. The majority of us listen to respond. We’re already thinking about how we’ll respond before the person is even done talking. I am guilty of this at times, and I have learned to redirect my attention to the person in front of me.