Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Speak Not On All Matters

I’ve tried to be more disciplined in what I respond and react to—especially on social media. I find that when I resist the impulse to jump into the fray on every topic or respond to every incendiary headline, I find greater peace of mind. My opinion is just that—mine. It’s not imperative to my well-being to share it. I’ve tried to recognize that doing so in the past only served to feed my egotism. Today’s virtual public square is a cacophony of inflammatory rhetoric and ideological disharmony; I’ve found that sometimes the easiest way to decrease the noise is not to add to it. Looking back, I’ve found that, at times, it was more important to jam my point into a discussion than it was to consider the broader implications for those involved in said discussion. Does my need to hammer home my point have to steamroll over someone who may have a greater emotional investment in the topic at hand? The short answer: No.

In resisting the self-serving need to hastily weigh in on every topic, I find that I’m able to strengthen my sense of self-control, avoiding unnecessary online altercations and vexations in which—undoubtedly—one or more parties walks away feeling wronged or, worse, persecuted. The world around us is cause enough for anxiety; why add to the collective tension and temperature of the pot through an egocentric compulsion to force opinions and the need to be “right?” In the last of Freud's major theoretical works, 1923’s The Ego and the Id, he made the analogy of the id being a horse while the ego is the rider. The ego is “like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.” That’s largely what this exercise has been for me—trying to keep my instinctual desire to opinionate in check by taking tighter reins of my ego and engaging in secondary process thinking. Do I succeed at controlling the impulse every single time? Hell, no. Do I still succumb to my ego-demon on occasion, the one who feels the need to be snarky or clever or right? Hell, yes.

But this work in progress keeps trying to get it right, to find the balance, to hurt and demean people less with my words. I take inspiration in this quest from the essayist Joan Didion, from her award-winning 2007 memoir on grief, The Year of Magical Thinking: “Why do you always have to be right? Why do you always have to have the last word? For once in your life just let it go.”

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