I recently posted something on Facebook asking what I should have for my dinner. I backed up my question with the added caveat that I didn’t actually care about the opinion of 99.8% of my Facebook friends. It was a joke. Obviously. It’s actually more like 99.9%. But at the same time it wasn’t a joke. I don’t really care for the opinions of others. There is a very small select ‘group’ of people whose opinion actually matters to me. And I’m willing to bet that you’re the same and yet, it doesn’t stop us giving our opinion, does it?
I’m personally quite opinionated. There are people reading this now, who know me pretty well, that are laughing at my use of the word ‘quite’. I’m very opinionated. But that’s ok, because what I think is correct. Because I think it. You, on the other hand, might not think what I think and therefore that makes you wrong. I won’t always tell you. And sometimes, to my shame, I won’t always challenge opinions that are particularly offensive because I can’t be bothered to get into an argument. As a wise person once told me “you can’t argue with stupid”. (I did once, however, get into an argument with a man on crutches who was being overtly, casually racist at a cinema … that’s right Chris, pick on the disabled you brave bastard. Although, technically, he was armed).
Which brings us to the great paradox. Opinions matter. And opinions don’t matter. It’s knowing when and where to air those opinions that is sometimes the difficult thing.I don’t like beans. Baked beans! Food of the devil, in my opinion. The taste, the texture, the smell of baked beans makes me gag. But then so does brushing my teeth, the thought of brushing my teeth and, on some occasions, breathing, so that’s perhaps not the greatest of reasons for hating baked beans. But I do. With a passion. And I’ll tell you this, gladly. Especially if you’re eating them in front of me. “I don’t like beans”. And you’ll look at me, and you’ll smile, and you’ll say “I know. You tell me every fucking time I eat them. And I don’t care.” And you don’t and you’ll continue to eat them in front of me. It’s my opinion and it doesn’t really matter.
This week it was the opinion of a number of people that Helen Skelton’s skirt was too short whilst she was presenting the Olympic swimming on the BBC. Her skirt was too short. Whilst she was presenting the swimming. At the Olympics. The swimming. The most ‘naked’ of all the sports. At the Olympics. A sporting event founded thousands of years ago by the ancient Greeks where all competitors performed in the nude. If you’re offended by a short skirt you really shouldn’t be allowed to watch the swimming. Not only are they wearing next to nothing but they’re also all very wet. It’s virtually porn. Again, it’s your opinion and it doesn’t really matter. But in context, it’s a ridiculously hypocritical opinion bordering on Victorian levels of prudish stupidity and you should have definitely kept it to yourself.
That’s just my opinion of course. But, I’m right. And if you don’t agree, you’re wrong.
Last month, the MP Jess Philips posted a photograph on Twitter of a locksmith changing her locks at her home because she had received death threats as a result of refusing to back Jeremy Corbyn. The result of this photograph? Several more threats to her personal safety and people advising her that she should have kept this to herself. Earlier in the year she received over 600 threats in one night as a result of launching a campaign against sexist online bullying. You couldn’t make it up.
But what about freedom of speech? Surely you can say whatever you like. It’s your opinion. Well, you can. Of course you can. But also you can’t. When that opinion, that you have said out loud or broadcast through social media, becomes a crime. But, surely that’s not fair? Freedom of speech!
We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we are pretty much free to go and do whatever we want. Until we kill someone, of course. Until we commit a crime. We’re not allowed to do that. Why do people readily accept that actions can be criminal and yet words cannot. Speaking, writing, publishing, posting is an action and therefore has limits. We do have freedom of speech. It’s a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t give people the right to air any old opinion without thought.
I always equate the “freedom of speech” excuse in the face of saying something offensive with the “ … but I’m an adult” declaration. Any teenager that responds with “… but I’m an adult” after being told they have to be home for 10.30pm clearly isn’t one and needs to be in much earlier for a bedtime story and a glass of warm milk.
To sum up, some opinions matter and some opinions don’t. But, my opinions and the opinions of the 0.1% are always correct. Think on.