The Liberating Art of Shutting the F@$% Up
You’d think that this was the golden age to be an op-ed writer, right? The laws of scarcity don’t seem to apply to the quantity of writing topics these days.
Well, it is easy if you are a partisan op-ed writer — more specifically, if your opinion about somebody rests entirely upon the (D) or (R) next to their name.
Those who spent the last eight years representing the voice of the “opposition” are quickly swapping out their pitchforks for cheerleader poodle skirts.
Meanwhile, the new opposition seem to be rekindling their dormant anti-establishment youthfulness, as if they are blowing the dust off of their old “It Takes a Nation of Millions…” record to give it another listen. It’s hip again to rage against the machine… unless that machine happens to be your own. In that case, wax and polish that machine, and be sure to winterize it properly.
The pivot in confirmation bias is as predictable as it is disappointing. Since this happens every election cycle, you’d think I’d be used to it by now.
As somebody who doesn’t shy away from chipping in his two cents, I find myself oddly at a loss of words more so these days. I can’t tell you how many Word docs I have opened, started, and then abandoned, simply because articulating madness is damn near impossible.
I am fortunate to have cultivated a supportive and patient audience. Occasionally, though, I receive notes from readers asking for my thoughts on a specific events or issues.
“When can we expect an article on this?” they often josh.
Recently, I’ve decided that I need to be more mindful of the topics and issues that I choose to write about. I am choosing to do this for a variety of reasons.
The first reason is merely an exercise in opportunity cost. Time is a limited resource and commodity. Responding to every news item is a time intensive and exhausting endeavor.
I don’t know about you, but my time is limited enough as is. Engaging in the daily back-and-forth is a time suck that takes away time better spent reading a book, doing pushups, playing with my kid, taking a nap, refinishing my house, or making love to my wife.
The second and probably the most pivotal reason is maintaining a certain degree of mental health.
This point is best illustrated by a recent event in my life.
This past weekend, I had the honor of officiating a wedding for my friends — an obscure hobby of mine that I really enjoy doing.
In addition to helping a couple tie the knot, I was fortunate enough to travel to a mountain resort with my wife and child to celebrate. I spent the evening wining, dining, and dancing — including watching my 15-month-old cut a rug. It’s hard not to think back on this weekend without a smile on my face.
Unbeknownst to me, the internet was exploding with another episode of mass outrage — this time over the “nontroversy” involving Mike Pence and the cast of Hamilton.
I awoke to an instant message from a friend, who humorously mocked Trump’s plea for theaters to be safe spaces. Not having heard the news, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked for where I could read about it.
“It’s all over,” he responded. Translation: “Just open your Facebook feed; you can’t miss it.”
So I did, and — sure enough — there it was: calls for boycotts by people who haven’t attended theater since they were forced to do so in middle school mixed with the never-ending punditry of people who seem inconsolable since Election Day.
I quickly assessed the events that transpired, ran a quick mental algorithm, and came to the conclusion that my best course of action was to simply turn off my phone and go back to enjoying my weekend.
We often forget that in this era of immediate information, not everything is newsworthy nor warrants commentary. By doing so, we drunkenly wallow in our cynicism and divert our attentions away from what is relevant, poignant, and beautiful.
Plus, our political narrative is too warped for my liking. Politics is no longer a conversation about the distribution of scarce resources, civil liberties, rule of law, or philosophical principles. Instead, it is an unhealthy mashup of emotionalism, tribalism, and virtue signaling that only serves to boil the blood of those who engage.
Politics is, simply put, anger porn. It envelops our attention, arouses our senses, and quickly climaxes — leaving the post-coital audience briefly fatigued and indulged enough to get by until the next episode begins.
If we want to rid ourselves of the toxicity of politics, then we must be mindful in our consumption. When analyzing new information, we should carefully discern its merits, and provide a measured and proportional response if necessary. Keywords: if necessary. We should become increasingly comfortable with the appropriate response being nothing at all, so that we can get back to living our lives and being more productive.
Far too often, our narrative compels us to react to everything that hits our newsfeed. Social media fuels this compulsion.
Now I am not recommending silently consenting to everything. It’s simply a matter of prioritizing what is truly pressing. If you find yourself being mad about everything, then is there nothing unique left in your world?
I am just as guilty as the next in this exercise in futility. I get worked up over some of the dumbest things. Only after wasting too much time belaboring the same points over and over do I notice the emotional manipulation. When evaluating the best response, I am trying to err on the side of not wildly emoting.
And that is why I having been trying to limit what I write online. I do so not to self-censor or to avoid conflict. Instead, this is my feeble attempt at self-control, discernment, and purposeful judiciousness. Consider it my online version of post-modern Stoicism.
My new goal is to avoid joining the ranks of the rest of the “Chicken Littles” and “Boys (and girls) who cry ‘Wolf!’” who are currently monopolizing the conversation. When inundated with a cacophony of white noise, it seems like the best form of dissent is to not mindlessly contribute to it.
A famous proverb reads, “A wise man once said nothing.” I’m trying to heed these words of wisdom, and I encourage others to do the same.