Respect versus Interest

I don’t often ask a lot of personal questions. I generally assume that if somebody wants me to know something, they’ll tell me. I have tended to regard this as a form of respect and politeness, and I never wanted to appear nosey or insensitive. But the end result is negative, and twofold:

1) I now I have some quite close friends whom I really know very little about.

2) I sometimes get the feeling people think I’m not interested in them, and that perceived lack of interest is reciprocated.

My problem is that I still feel awkward asking what I regard as personal questions, and my definition of that is quite broad. I might not ask a near-stranger about things like: their health problems, their relationship, their family, their financial situation, their religious views, their political leanings… and so on. That means I’m often stuck with general conversation like “How are you?” and then I… stop.

And because I don’t delve right into those issues, the friendship may progress for quite a while based on trivialities, and eventually there comes a point in time where it becomes silly to start asking those personal questions.

“So, I’ve known you for three years, and now I’m going to ask what your partner does for a living. You do have a partner, right?”

No. Silly.

So, I suppose I must work on my social skills, and learn to stretch my funny little boundaries. Don’t be surprised if I start asking weird questions in the near future. Things you might assume I know already, just because we’re friends, but which in truth I never quite got around to asking about.

I just hope you don’t think I’m being rude…


This picture has no relevance to the post. It's just nice.

This picture has no relevance to the post. It's just nice.

Today’s post may be rambling and disjointed, coming as it does from the keyboard of somebody tired and sore. However, I have been thinking a lot lately about opinions.

Pretty much everybody has an opinion on something. Whether it be a hotly contested current issue (such as climate change and the carbon tax) or something that ticks along in the background all the time (such as vegetarianism), you’d be hard pressed to find someone who believes in nothing. And given the right trigger, people are happy to share their opinions.

Generally speaking, there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion – no matter what it is. You’re entitled to your views just as I am entitled to mine. However there are a couple of things which strongly-opinionated people often do which annoy me no end, and these must stop!

The first thing is accosting people with their opinions, bombarding them, insisting that their opinion is fact or as good as the word of God and must not be contradicted. These people will not accept debate, regardless of how much evidence may be presented by the defence. Dammitall, they have a view, and it is right; dare to disagree and you are wrong and maybe even stupid or evil!

Didn’t breastfeed your baby? Your child will be sickly and stupid! Drive a large car? Oh my God, it’s people like you who are killing this planet!

These opinionated people know no tolerance or tact, there is no middle ground, you can have no possible extenuating circumstances to justify your differing view. They cause offence wherever they go, and then wonder why nobody seems to like them much.

The second thing is bringing up their opinion when it is irrelevant, or just barely relevant. These people will interrupt a discussion about milk prices to talk about fluoride in the water. They will hijack a conversation about a holiday to push their anti-airline agenda. They will wax lyrical on the evils of corporate America when you’re talking about having your kid’s birthday party at McDonalds. They will take any and every opportunity to inform you of their paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories. These ones can usually be easily dismissed as crazies.

A concept I would like to introduce to both (or all) types of opinionated people is tact, or politeness. By all means, hold your opinion. By all means, live your life according to your principles. But for goodness sake, don’t push it where it isn’t wanted. Sure, mention it. But do so nicely, with consideration for the certain fact that not all of your audience will be inclined to agree.

Here are a couple of simple examples:

Wrong: “Bottle feeding is wrong, and your baby is going to suffer for it!”
Right: “I preferred to breastfeed my babies, and I would be interested to hear why you chose not to.”

Wrong: “Never buy processed chicken, it’s full of hormones and they do horrible things to you!”
Right: “I feel uncomfortable eating chicken after all those unsubstantiated rumours from a few years ago.”

Wrong: “Vaccinations cause autism! How could you do that to your child?”
Right: “Oh, I had heard that vaccinations can cause some health problems so I chose not to.”

Good luck tactifying yourself, campers!