Against the Concept of “Speaking Your Mind”

Because It’s Almost Meaningless, and Usually Harmful

On many occasions, I’ve heard people praise others for speaking their mind in a public setting. But I have to admit; I don’t understand what exactly that means, or why it’s praiseworthy.

If it means that someone says what’s initially on their mind at a given moment— without taking time to reflect or refine it — I’m not sure why it’s praiseworthy. A great deal of what is on my mind at any given time is incomplete, ill-informed, and distorted by one or more of various biases — both cognitive and emotional. I see very little value in speaking those thoughts in a public setting.

[If it means that someone says how they’re feeling at a given time, I can see some value in it — but little value in doing so publicly. The more public a figure is, the less their feeling should be what they’re speaking publicly — unless those statements have been carefully refined to clearly reflect that they are personal feelings.]

Ultimately, I see two things wrong with the concept of “speaking your mind” as a positive thing.

What is on your mind at a given time is not necessarily fit for publication to others.

What you choose to say off the cuff to others could hurt them, reflect negatively on you, or both. Any person is subject to their thoughts evolving and maturing as they mull them over.

In that way, thinking has a relationship to speaking much like the one that food preparation has to serving. You need to prepare the food before you serve it, or else what you serve is unappetizing or just plain dangerous. When you speak before things have been effectively mulled over, you’re serving the equivalent of under-cooked chicken to those listening — appealing and tasty on the outside, but dangerous upon being eaten.

Your mind is not a concrete, unchanging thing.

To “speak your mind” as it is now is to speak a different mind than what you will speak later. You might (and likely will) change your mind in the future. Normally that would not be a big problem. But once you’ve spoken your mind, speaking it in the future — after you’ve changed it — you stand to contradict yourself.

Some people may understand and respect that kind of nuance. But many won’t, and it could make you appear incompetent, indecisive, or like a sycophant. None of those is a great option.

As always, it’s possible that I’ve gotten wrong. But however useful “speak your mind” has been as advice in the past, it has to be less useful now. There is so much content to sift through in all kinds of media — and so many outlets for discussion. It can’t hurt us to hold back a little, until we’ve had time to collect ourselves.

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