I want to get one thing out of the way right up front. I’m not saying you can’t have or share an opinion. Everyone can freely express their opinions, however misguided they may be. What I’m saying is: if you think about a topic and speak from a place of education/experience, your opinion is more valuable and worthy of being listened to.
Free speech seems to be everywhere at the moment. Rights are great, as are open discussions about social issues. But are all opinions created equal? New Zealand is filled with opinionated people and not all of them should be given a platform.
This article is a kind of guide to whether you should express an opinion or not. It’s targeted at people who have national media platforms that they use to spout bullshit on a daily basis. It might also apply to your uncle who likes to have a few beers and share his drunk thoughts in the Stuff comments. This guide also applies to Donald Trump on Twitter. Wouldn’t it be nice if those people thought before they spoke out on an issue?
For those people, I bring you SHUTUP, an acronym to determine whether an opinion should be shared with the world or kept in your head.
S – Stop and think
As a preliminary test, stop your furious typing or talking and think for a second about what you’re saying. Read over what you’ve written and think about why you’re saying it. If you’re simply reacting because someone said something that made you feel uncomfortable, think about why that is and whether you have a good reason to speak out.
H – Is it hateful?
If your opinion is based on prejudice towards a group of people or a specific person, don’t say it. Remember how, sometime when you were about six, a teacher told your class not to be mean to each other? That rule never stopped applying. Speech that comes from a place of hatred is worthless.
U –Do you have any understanding of the topic?
If you’re weighing in on an important issue that many people are affected by, understanding the topic is a basic requirement. Reading a Wikipedia page probably doesn’t count as understanding. Thinking and learning about different perspectives and how your opinion opposes or supports others does count.
T – Is it true?
For most topics, objectively true facts exist. If you’re faced with a mountain of evidence that what you are saying is false, why say it? Sharing lies is not a great idea, and you can expect a lot of people to disagree with you if you do share them. You can apply critical pressure to theories and discoveries without ignoring the truth. There’s a reason climate change deniers are problematic. It’s called science.
U – Is it unnecessary?
Necessity is not the only benchmark of when an opinion should be shared, but some opinions and perspectives are so deeply ingrained in our society that they don’t need to be repeated. If you’re expressing an opinion that has existed and oppressed people for centuries in the interests of playing the devil’s advocate, you don’t have a worthwhile contribution. Beating the same, oppressive drum is unnecessary.
P – Does my perspective add anything?
Sometimes, the perspective you’re coming from means that your opinion has no value. For example, if you’re a white person speaking out against Māori language, maybe don’t. Or if you’re someone who has never suffered from mental illness suggesting that depression is just a mental block, stop talking. Consider that, if you have no personal experience or special knowledge, your perspective might not (and should not) be given as much weight as those who know what they’re talking about.
And remember, people are allowed to use their own free speech to point out that you are wrong/misinformed/hateful and not listen to you. That’s not an attack on your free speech, it’s the way the right works. I’m not telling you to shut up. I’m telling you to SHUTUP: educate yourself and listen to others before expressing damaging and misinformed opinions.Support Villainesse