On opinions and the holding thereof

With the recent municipal election (in which i did not run), i began to feel a weight lifting off my shoulders. With Tuesday’s swearing-in of the new council, and the official end of my own council term, the unweighting is complete.

It’s not the burden of responsibility — that was bearable, once i realized i could only make the best decisions i could, given my necessarily limited scope of information. Plus there were other sensible heads at the table, so i didn’t have to cover it all.

No, the weight that lifted for me is what i’ve come to call “council chill” — one of the quick, rude awakenings of being elected.

The election process in 2014 was all about the candidates’ views and opinions, but once elected it was suddenly no longer about me — it was about canvassing my constituency and reflecting their views at the council table.

In fact, the added heft and scrutiny suddenly given to my words made me cautious about saying anything at all, without a ton of background and certainty. Even my thinking began to be tainted by considerations of what’s politically possible or proper or doable, not what should be.

A few minor incidents early on made it clear that i must proceed with great caution, lest a hypersensitive electorate go batshit hysterical at some remark made in speculation or jest. (See, i could never have made that crack as a councillor!)

So i found myself consciously censoring my own opinions and ideas. I stopped writing shoot-from-the-hip blog posts, and cracking wise at community meetings, lest my words be taken too seriously by hearers.

I felt the council chill; i became (shudder) conservative.

And now, i’m free!

 

I remember the thrill of starting my council term, that anything-is-possible vibe. I remember being startled at the respect people suddenly showed, as though i had suddenly become a powerful person. I remember when it fully hit me that, yes indeed, my decisions on council did sometimes have a major, sometimes million-dollar effect on people’s lives. I was afraid of getting a swelled head, what with all this new responsibility and status.

But toward the end of the term, i saw the job as more akin to taking out the garbage — something that has to be done to keep the town running smoothly, and now it was my turn. In short: decisions, many of them tedious or uncomfortable, have to be made, for good or ill. They are often messy and complicated and far from clear-cut, so somebody has to slog through the details and sort it out as best they can.

It’s not a glory job; it’s part of the spectrum of civic duty that we all bear. So we hold elections, and pick the lucky schmucks who will take out the garbage for the next four years. I’ve done my time; now it’s somebody else’s turn.

(Which is another metaphor i wouldn’t have dared to use as a councillor!) But now … to misquote BB King, the chill is gone! I’m free to mouth off, crack wise, make jokes, shoot ideas into the air like (banned) fireworks, without fearing i’m about to be quoted in the newspaper or called to task by colleagues or citizenry. It’s liberating to both lips and mind, to be able to have opinions of my own again.

So i’m making a conscious effort to have lots of them — opinions about everything, the more outlandish the better — and to spout them off with impunity.

 

HOWEVER … we live in an unfortunate age when many of us are wedded to our opinions, even define ourselves by them. They may be totally off-the-cuff and based on no solid facts at all, but by god they’re mine, and challenging them means you challenge me, my very legitimacy as a human being. Do that and i’ll start yelling, and double down on my precious beliefs even if they do me no good. (Remind you of any nearby countries?)

So nah, i’m not going down that road. I’m going in the opposite direction, where opinions are more like whims … what’ll-i-wear-today? type things, lightweight and easily changed. I plan on having opinions, and arguing for them, but being very lightly attached to them. I plan on changing my mind often, and not caring much it.

Which is NOT to say i’m abandoning my principles, my moral core … that i now stand for nothing at all. There’s a key difference between opinions and principles that we seem to have lost — principles are the structure, opinions are the window-dressing we hang on that structure. It is meet not to confuse the two.

Okay, this post is long enough. I’ll close on a couple of quotes from Groucho Marx:

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”

marx quote on politics

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