Not every hot take needs to be shared with all

Not every hot take needs to be shared with all

Marcus Aurelius once said, “You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you.”

I am no Roman emperor, but I think good, old Marc — known as the last of the five good emperors of Rome — seemed to know a thing or two about keeping his mouth shut. Then again, Marcus Aurelius has never been on Twitter after any major event happens.

When we open our mouth, the hot takes come out, and as an opinion writer, I have a lot of hot takes. I’m glad I write my columns at least four days before they go to print and you read them. That gives me time to think about what I want to say, sometimes processing with a small group of trusted friends. I reserve the wobbly takes for my Substack, or God forbid my blog that still exists from 2006. Every now and then, I read through my posts and cringe.

But those words existed for that time frame, and I won’t delete them. Learning when and where to share a viewpoint has always been a balancing act. We can come across as tone deaf if we don’t take social cues into account and leave our words all over the floor, some of which may have drawn blood.

There’s also something to be said for learning how to write in an efficient manner with spare prose, the ability to craft paragraphs that aren’t littered with words ending in “ly.” Stephen King’s book “On Writing” helped me learn to cut the dangly parts of essays that do nothing but cause readers to stumble.

The birth of online writing opened vast opportunities for people that had things to say. And I had a lot of things to say. Long before I wrote this weekly column, I wrote fancy poetry, blog posts about my kids and penned theses on world events that drove me to tears. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, I didn’t know where to go with my emotions. When the “he shouldn’t have worn a hoodie and walked outside at night” remarks started pouring in, I sat down and let spill what I felt. That could’ve been my child, I speculated, as I wrote a blog post titled ‘Hate is a virus.” Writing was cathartic and freeing. It allowed me to put my emotions in a place they could be constructive.

Today I don’t tackle every event. I might have opinions, but I let them settle before opening my laptop. A well-crafted 280-character tweet is more satisfying than inserting my voice into a fray that didn’t ask for it. Online obscurity is often better than inserting foot in mouth.

But there’s been a gnawing at the back of my head, a feeling I can’t quite place. So many of us have been carefully listening to voices that need heard, ones with wisdom and insight, that we no longer trust our own voice. Is what we’re thinking wrong? Can we trust ourselves, if we witness or watch an event unfold, to add our reaction to the narrative? Should we be shamed and silenced for doing so? In today’s climate I may not have written certain essays that would have been deemed “out of my lane.”

I do believe gatekeeping certain views is harmful. It doesn’t allow for any other hypothesis to be interjected and thoughtfully discussed. It places so much emphasis on making sure those voices are heard that we disregard our own, rendering them invalid. I am a staunch ally of voices that need listened to, their thoughts heard and embraced. My life is nothing but a long series of years defending those I love and making sure their stories are told.

But if we become too combative about certain voices being the only way, that there is no other way to exist inside a divisive event, we lose our own way. And that’s a loss we may never recover.

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