“I say what I want when I want.”
“It’s called free speech and I’m entitled to my opinion.”
“I don’t care what you think. That’s just how I feel.”
“Whatever, I do what I want!”
Like many other bloggers, I’ve been working extremely hard to promote and share my content in as many ways as I possibly can.
You know, à la Gary Vee style.
Yes, that’s my shameless plug for all the different ways you can feed my attention-seeking needs.
From my understanding of how human attention works and my experience so far, I now know why they call it headlines.
Attention is a hot commodity.
To get a stranger to read 1 minute of your work is like trying to wrestle a toddler to change their diaper who has just discovered earthworms while in the midst of digging a hole in your precious garden.
You sweet talk, you dance, you distract, you negotiate, you try not to pull a smackdown move on that miniature body.
…wait how did she get so damn strong?
Just give me a freaking moment so I can wipe your ass clean…please?
I’m a context person.
I’m a writer.
I have an affinity for words.
Words are my thang.
So when I started reading up on the best ways to capture someone’s attention (ie. blog titles that start with “How To” or “The Ultimate Guide To” or “3 Ways To“; Instagram-worthy quotes that contain as few words as possible, using the prettiest font and popping colours; headers that include SEO friendly keywords), I had to adjust my way of writing.
You may have noticed that my writing style is as though I’m speaking to you.
It’s because I enjoy writing as I speak.
Sometimes my sentences are long and sometimes they’re short. And sometimes, my sentences are repetitive to illustrate a point.
I write as I please.
But most of the people who are scrolling their phones aren’t looking to read a quote that’s the length of an essay, or a 40-word headline that shows both sides of an argument and how the article is going to open their minds about something.
So I cater to the masses, simplifying and distilling down an entire story into a bite-sized amuse-bouche, hoping someone stops by for the full meal and all its context.
As I’ve started to write more headline-like, I’ve also started to notice people who actually talk in headlines.
People Who Talk in Headlines
I had coffee with a friend recently and she bumped into an old coworker of hers. I’ll call him Kelvin*.
*This is such an Asian dude name.
Why didn’t Asian parents named their sons Celsius or Fahrenheit?
Because they think in absolutes…haha I crack myself up.
We invite him to have coffee with us. We start talking about being Chinese but raised in Canada (all three of us were).
I bring up my blog and what I wrote in the HuffPost about how I don’t define my culture as either fully Canadian or fully Chinese.
I like to pick and choose what I like about each culture and create my own. And that I’m working on preserving this for my daughter.
Kelvin smugly says to me,
“Years ago, I made a decision. I am Chinese. That is all.
You’re either Canadian or you’re Chinese. You can’t be both.
I only eat Chinese food, listen to Chinese music, watch Chinese shows. I speak Chinese to anyone who is Chinese.
If you’re Chinese but you like watching hockey, having beers and eating burgers, you’re Canadian. Don’t call yourself Chinese.”
So being the curious mind that I am, I ask him a slew of questions about his journey, how he came to that decision, why he decided that there is only one way to identify as a Chinese person living in Canada.
And his answers had absolutely no depth or context. All he kept trying to do was convince me that he was right, “educating me” in his opinion, saying the same thing with different words and examples of his perspective.
He constantly repeated himself, b,
“I just decided.
It’s the only way.
I see other people calling themselves Chinese but they don’t even eat the food. They’re not proud of their culture.”
It was like talking to a wall.
All he kept trying to do was convince me people shouldn’t call themselves Chinese unless they live a “fully Chinese lifestyle.”
He couldn’t give a reason for his statements. He couldn’t share with me his journey of why he felt that way, how (and what) life experiences shaped his current view, who influenced his beliefs and values, or why he judged others who didn’t share his perspective.
Perhaps someone influenced him?
Perhaps something happened that either changed or reaffirmed something he always believed in?
Perhaps his parents or grandparents taught him this?
Perhaps he fears the Chinese culture is being lost amongst his peers because of something that happened to him?
Or a mission he’s been on since then?
Or an organization he’s part of or started?
Or all the news he’s reading and getting brainwashed with?
He couldn’t share or communicate how he made that decision.
It made me incredibly frustrated.
I am open to learning about someone’s thoughts and beliefs, but if there is no context or substance, only judgement and opinion?
Then it’s just ignorance.
Ultimately, I don’t think this is just a “Kelvin” problem. It’s become the culture of our society and our generation.
When We Stopped Asking Why
Growing up, our parents often told us to either do things or not do things:
“Don’t make silly faces.”
“Call them Auntie and Uncle, not their first names.”
“Don’t eat that.”
And then we would ask our parents why?
And the reasons they gave were totally legit but they often just scratched the surface because after the third or fourth why, the response we get becomes…
“Because I said so.”
Coming full circle as parents, when our kids ask us this question, we roll our eyes in annoyance. I know I’m guilty of that.
Then we entered an education system that rewards and punishes based on dichotomy.
“2 + 2 = __”
“The capital of Canada is _____”
“Multiple choice questions”
“True or False”
“If you get below 50%, you fail.”
You’re either right or you’re wrong and that was taught during the formative years.
From “be quiet in the library” to “no running in the hallways” to “don’t throw rocks”, there were rules in place that we had to follow.
And we were rewarded for following them (like myself, the goodie-two-shoes Asian stereotype) and punished for challenging them.
I don’t remember exploring critical thinking until I was well into high school.
And how was self-reflection taught?
You should see my stacks of journals that I was asked to complete all throughout my elementary school years, detailing what I did every day, facts upon facts without a single moment of actual self-reflection.
“Today, mommy bought me a turtle.
I like my turtle.
She is cute and green.”
An insightful excerpt from one of my Grade 2 journals, circa 1993 or 1994
If we didn’t cause any trouble, answered the questions correctly, played within the system, we succeeded.
Those who succeeded come out into the world with a black and white view, having been extensively praised for their conformity that superficially inflated their ego to the point where when questioned, they state,
“I’m entitled to my opinion”.
Sidebar: The Education System is a Complicated Monster
As someone who has worked in the public sector, battling bureaucracy and red tape for over a decade, I understand why education is delivered this way.
I am in no way criticizing a system that is ridiculously complex and operates under incredibly constrained budgets nor am I suggesting that to “fix” the issue means the school system needs to improve.
I also don’t have the knowledge of how this system has changed since I was in school so I’m merely speaking about my own experiences and how it has affected the way our opinions are formed.
Media bombarding us with headlines that have no substance
Once we get out of school, we become proactive in seeking information, choosing to educate ourselves via whatever media throws at us.
News from traditional channels like newspapers, radio and television are becoming obsolete because, in the competition for attention, God almighty Internet prevails.
So the fight for our attention has become so desperate that media outlets now produce headlines that are specifically designed to entertain us, not inform us, purposely and strategically written to trigger us to our core.
So what happens when we stop asking why?
Our parents, teachers, and the media shoving “Because I said so” down our throats is making us shit “Because I’m entitled to my opinion.“
We’ve become reactive beings who form opinions based on our emotional responses without connecting them to our values, beliefs and history.
We see or hear something that triggers a positive feeling (like joy, gratitude, love, excitement, freedom, hope, purpose..etc), we instantly “like” it and file that in our “approved” box of opinions.
We see or hear something that triggers a negative feeling (such as anger, frustration, guilt, fear, anxiety…etc), we immediately “dislike” it, put an angry face or mean comment and file that in our “unapproved” box of opinions.
And before we have a moment to self-reflect on that strong emotion, we are already scrolling down, swiping left or moving onto the next topic of interest.
We’ve become dichotomous with our opinions because we have stopped asking ourselves why and we have made it socially unacceptable to do so.
How we can change this behaviour
When did we stop asking why and why did we stop?
Is it because it’s considered rude to ask why?
And we stop ourselves the moment our curiosity peaks as we subconsciously get a flashback of being reprimanded by a crotchety Mrs. Snyder?
Is it a fear of invading someone’s privacy?
Or perhaps we don’t want to offend them, avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.
To become truly self-aware, we need to understand how our opinions are formed and why we feel so strongly about them.
Then taking that to the next level and communicating it out, articulating it in a way that makes sense to others, so they understand you more and have a better perspective of who you are.
An opinion without substance is called ignorance.
For instance, maybe you don’t like Chinese people and you have a strong aversion against us because you believe they are cheap, dirty and deceitful.
I don’t care nor do I feel offended if you feel that way as long as you give me your personal journey of how you came to that conclusion, demonstrating how you’ve weighed all sides of the argument, debated internally to form this opinion, not just taking what you’ve been forced fed and regurgitating it out of your ass.
Challenge yourself to ask why the next time someone spews out an opinion without context.
Recently, my husband and I went over to an old coworker’s house for a dinner party.
They served their perfectly cooked prime rib on gorgeous plates.
So I make a comment about how fancy they are, inquiring about where they bought them and how much they were (Even though I have no intention of upgrading my cheap crap at home).
You know, the small talk stuff you’re supposed to bring up while you wait for everyone else at the table to get served and you’re trying to distract yourself long enough so you don’t sneak a bite.
They go into storytelling mode about seeing them online, how they’ve been waiting for the set to go on sale and the excitement they felt when it finally did.
They were able to buy them for an astounding 40% off the regular price.
Blah blah blah…
Being someone who knows dick all about dishware, I foolishly ask,
“So are they as resistant as the Corelle stuff?”
The husband looks at me with wide eyes and flatly says,
“I would never buy Corelle.”
So then I’m thinking,
“Is he looking down at me like I’m some low-class citizen, making me re-live that painful memory in Grade 8 when someone asked if I bought my clothes from Value Village
Is he judging me?”
Instead of jumping to conclusions, I ask,
“Why wouldn’t you buy Corelle stuff?”
His face is slightly shocked but he calmly responded,
“Growing up, we didn’t have a lot so my dad bought Corelle dishware since they last a long time.
I vowed to never buy them as an adult because I want to be able to afford something better for my family.”
Then he pauses for a moment and says to me and the group around the table,
“Hmmm…I’ve never told anyone that.”
But I’m glad he did because I’m going to ask it again the next time.
So Readers, do you think the “entitled to our opinion” is a phase? How do you think society is going to look like years down the road?
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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