The fine line between judging, and having an opinion

The other day a colleague of mine confessed that she was against gay marriage. I was kind of stunned. Which very likely makes me naïve. I had assumed that in this day and age we were all pretty tolerant, and had moved on to bigger (actual) problems. I get that my 90-year-old grandpa might still be bent out of shape about it, but for the most part I took for granted that the younger generation didn’t even have a shadow of a concern with that sort of thing. So, I was especially surprised because this co-worker was a relatively young, hip person, and I found her statement incongruous with her overall vibe and personality.

Another co-worker and I went on at length about how offended we were about her comment, how we couldn’t believe it, and how we couldn’t help but think of her differently now. And then I kind of caught myself. And realized that I was formulating a whack of judgements about this person without even really knowing her that well (apparently). At the risk of over-analyzing, I was judging her for judging, essentially. Then I conceded that she had a right to her opinion. Especially given the fact that she was saying this all rather passively and somewhat privately. She wasn’t harassing anyone or being overtly disrespectful. I also realized that the reason it surprised me so much is because I am probably her polar opposite. I am, for the most part, afraid to have an opinion on pretty much, well, anything.

Part of that is because I’ve always lacked a backbone, I’ll admit it. But the other, bigger part, is this learned…paranoia, for lack of a better word, about offending someone in our hyper-sensitive society. I honestly forget what sitcom I was watching but they made reference to everyone feeling like they absolutely “had” to be offended by everything they heard, for the sake of political correctness. I really identified with the comment, made offhand, because I feel like this is exactly what is starting to happen. We tear apart every little thing someone says, every comment that is made. We are excited to be outraged and indignant at the most innocuous of things.

Without even realizing it, I have been on a quest to be the least judgmental, the most open-minded, the most supportive. And I’ve probably taken it too far. I’m afraid to call bullshit, I’m afraid to question, I’m afraid to say I’m not ok with something (especially if it’s a touchy subject like mental health, politics, gender/sexuality issues, and so forth). But it doesn’t mean I should have to lie. To pretend I’m ok with something when I’m not. Let’s say a friend confided in me that she had being unfaithful. A bunch of judgement would probably spring to mind, but this is a case where I could tell myself to hold on, remember that I’m not in the person’s shoes, and hear them out. However, if I see a friend hitting her dog, for example, I’m not going to nod sagely and say “I’m not in her shoes, who am I to judge”. I’m exaggerating (poorly) for argument’s sake, and I’m not quite sure what my point is. While I utterly disagree with my colleague’s comment, I guess she reminded me that it’s ok to speak up once and a while, and be honest with your true thoughts on a subject.

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