A Week Without Opinions: Can I do it? Could you?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

They say that the first step in overcoming addiction is admitting you have a problem, so here it goes: 

Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m an opinion junkie.

As my friends, family, and readers already know, I have an opinion about nearly everything—religion, politics, theology, entertainment, lifestyle, college football, driving, world affairs, and whether or not that coffee mug in the kitchen cabinet is light gray or light blue (it's light blue, I say!) Opinions are not inherently a bad thing, of course, but I get such a high from interjecting them into conversations that sometimes I talk over other people. Sometimes I don’t even listen to those with whom I disagree. Sometimes I don’t really care about learning or growing or building strong relationships, so long as everyone knows that I am right.

I do all sorts of things with my opinions—shout them at televangelists and news anchors on TV, collect them from my favorite writers and speakers and pundits, hide behind them when I’m afraid of a new idea or perspective, stick them on Facebook and Twitter through little sound bites and thumbs-up applications. I’m addicted to the fleeting sense of power and security and self-validation that expressing my opinions can bring. I’m addicted to the momentary high that comes with saying my piece or making a point or proving somebody wrong.

But recently, as I’ve been pondering the paralysis of my own insecurities and thinking about Peter Rollins’ challenge to dialog from a position of humility, I got to wondering if I could survive without my opinions.  I got to wondering if perhaps it was time for a bit of shock therapy. 

So I’ve decided to go on an opinion fast.

(I’ll give those of you who know me well a few moments to throw your head back with laughter.)

Yes, beginning on Sunday, I’ll abstain from expressing my opinion for an entire week, with the purpose of becoming a better listener and learner. What I hope this little experiment will teach me is that I don’t NEED my opinions, that it’s possible to encounter opposing ideas (even bad ideas) without always having to shoot them down or present a counter-point.

So with the Psalmist’s prayer in mind—“Set guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips”—I hereby commit to asking more questions, listening better, and embracing a healthy dose of silence every now and then. I commit to breaking my addiction to my opinions.

Official Rules

Time-frame: From 12 a.m. on Sunday, July 19 through 12 a.m. on Sunday, July 26.

What constitutes an opinion? For the purpose of this experiment, an opinion is defined as rendering judgment upon a person or idea with the intention of advancing my own perspective over all others. Facial expressions, noises, and even questions can all qualify as opinions when they are used to make a point. (“I like this coffee-flavored ice cream” is okay. “Coffee-flavored ice cream is the best ice cream in the world and people who like strawberry are idiots” is not okay.)

Enforcement: My husband Dan will provide most of the accountability, as will readers, family, and friends. If at some point during the week I express an opinion, I must perform one of the tasks on my very long been-meaning-to-get-to-that home maintenance list (which includes such glorious undertakings as mopping the kitchen floor, vacuuming the stairs to the basement, and bagging up old clothes to send to Goodwill).

Interviews: As part of the fast, I will conduct three in-person interviews with friends who hold perspectives with which I often disagree. Currently, these perspectives include Calvinism, conservative Republicanism, and complementarianism.  I chose these particular perspectives because 1) nearly every blog post I’ve written about them has been critical recently, 2) because they cover the three big opinion-makers—religion, politics, and lifestyle, and 3) because I have friends who actually agreed to talk to me about them! During the interview, I am only allowed to ask questions. I cannot make counter-points or objections, or ask pointed, “gotcha” questions. The goal is to really listen to what my friends have to say with the intention of learning something new. The day after each interview, I will blog about the experience and highlight what I found to be each person’s strongest or most interesting point...again without expressing any opinions or arguments of my own.

Input: Also as part of the fast, I will abstain from those reading materials (blogs, books, magazines, Web sites) and radio/TV programs that tend to validate my already held beliefs in favor of those that offer a different perspective. During the fast, I commit to watching one installment of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, attending one lecture at Summit Ministries, and reading one book by Mark Driscoll. (I’ll give my friends yet another moment to throw their heads back with laughter regarding that last one.) As with the interviews, I will highlight what I found to be the speaker’s/author’s/pundit’s strongest points. On Friday, rather than posting links to articles/blog posts with which I agree, I will post links to articles/blog posts with which I do not agree, but found interesting or compelling.

Blog: On the weekdays of the fast, I will blog daily about what I am learning from the experience...but without rending judgment on the positions I have encountered. It should be an interesting week!

You: Readers are welcome to comment on both the experience itself and the positions I describe. As always, opinions are not at all forbidden in the comment section of the blog! However, in the spirit of the experiment, I urge readers to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of both their position and the opposing position. Those of you who wish to participate in the experiment themselves—by conducting listen-only interviews, taking a day off from expressing opinions, reading books you don’t expect to like, or watching either Fox News or MSNBC for a day–are welcome to send your stories to me through thecontact pageI’d love to publish some of your experiences/reflections on the blog!  Be creative!

So, do you think I can do it? Can I go a whole week without expressing my opinion? Could you? Got any tips/advice for surviving the week? Any ideas of ways I could augment or improve the experiment?

If my head doesn’t explode, this should be a lot of fun.

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