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Op-eds

Having an opinion

  • Howard Feldman 2018
An accurate barometer of our collective mood is the communication that I receive. When we are in a more positive and less anxious space, I either hear little from readers or might get a few positive words of encouragement.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | May 09, 2019

Given some of the messages I have received, I am increasingly concerned that we are functioning at an extremely high level of stress.

Although this might be understandable, given Poway, Gaza, and the South African elections, what I am seeing is a concerning trend of shutting out opinions that we find uncomfortable.

Any email that begins with, “I am totally and utterly disgusted at what Howard said on Friday, 3 May,” is clearly not going to be fan mail. Nor is an SMS from a listener stating, “Your opinion is your own. We are not necessarily interested therein.”

That said, both are way better and more pleasant than an email that begins with, “This afternoon, I had the unpleasant experience of reading your opinion piece on the matter surrounding the South African flag,” ending with, “My message to you is go and sit in a dark corner and fast under sack cloth and ashes, and never raise your arrogant, ignorant head again, or open your mouth to talk.”

That one was particularly hurtful, as anyone who knows me is aware that I find fasting extremely difficult. I also have no idea if we can still access sack cloth anywhere. But I suppose that is easy enough to find out.

All these messages were received from different people over the past few days. All dealt with different subjects on which I had expressed an opposing point of view that clearly they were uncomfortable with.

In none of these situations did I go out of my way to be contrary. On the contrary, I gave my thoughts in an honest and hopefully balanced way. I accept that there is not really such a thing, but I do try and look at all sides of any particular situation. What it indicates is an intolerance and nervousness about alternate views.

That people disagree is not a concern for me. It would be terrible if they didn’t disagree – at least from time to time. I see little value in adding more layers to an already well thought out and expressed view, and therefore generally try and engage on subjects that need some discussion and debate.

But I am concerned that we are becoming increasingly unnerved by opinions we don’t share. I am becoming increasingly worried about our levels of anxiety, and why we need to react so strongly to opinion that differs from ours. A different view might not be pleasant, but it is unlikely that it is going to kill us.

The messages that I have received are not all from the Jewish community. It is clear to me that this is a broader problem, and South Africans in general are fearful that anything might tip us over the edge.

Unless it is hate speech, it won’t. And we need to take it down a notch. Or a few notches.

In the meantime, I will continue to do what I do, and I greatly look forward to hearing from you.

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