Give umpires, referees and line judges a little credit. They need to be firm on every call, with no room for ambiguity. The same goes for most politicians. If you are eyeing political office, a clear point-of-view on topics related to the position is paramount. It’s a window into your principles and policies.
In the workplace, making your opinion known could be the difference between getting a promotion or not. In this scenario, it is surely beneficial to explicitly state your thoughts on how the office works and ways in which you could improve it for everyone.
In politics and at work, it is commonly held that what you share should be relevant. For example, if you are running for mayor of New York City, your views on the birth of Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor (the daughter of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle) has no place in your campaign. And, speaking with your boss about your thoughts on whether or not First Lady Jill Biden should go by “doctor” shouldn’t have much of an impact on a potential promotion.
Arguably, disclosing these thoughts that have no direct relation to what you are doing is at best unnecessary. At worst, it can drastically hinder your success. What if you are sharing your opinion on the best musicians of all time at a campaign rally and everyone in attendance hates your taste in music? The odds you get their vote just significantly decreased.
Another possible problem with revealing your general opinions is that it can inadvertently insult someone. For example, talking about climate change or religion at work, especially with today’s social dynamic, is bound to incite some drama. Therefore, unless your opinion is about something work-related, it is best to stay quiet.
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Having said that, there are also arguments to be made on the other side. That is, expressing your opinions—regardless of what they are about—can be positive. Maybe your boss’s father was a PhD who fought for the “doctor” honorific. Well, you are now at the top of his list just by mentioning your thoughts on the matter.
It can also make you seem like a more well-rounded person to your peers; someone they’d like to get a beer with, so to speak. If you just stay quiet about all non-work-related topics, you will not come across as a very interesting person. Having a wide range of opinions makes you more likeable, even if everyone does not agree with you.
Clearly then, there are reasons both to share and not to share your personal opinions. However, all of these arguments rest on contingencies, i.e. who happens to be in your audience or what the background of your peers may be. Instead, let’s focus on what you can control.
Plainly, disclosing your feelings, whatever they may be about, gives those listening a more complete picture of who you are. And importantly, the dangers of not doing this outweigh the chance that people may disagree with you. No matter what, people will disagree with you. You might as well control the narrative.
To see the real danger of not expressing your full scope of opinions, let’s turn to the life of well known German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche.
You may be surprised that a philosopher can be used as an example here. What I mean is, philosophers share their views on everything, especially the topics that seem unnecessary. What does the epistemological status of space have anything to do with, well, anything? And what does the ‘epistemological status of space’ even mean?
Well, there are things that Nietzsche did not publicly express his thoughts on, and this omission was nearly his downfall.
Although he never received a degree in philosophy, taught for more than a decade, or lived past 55 years-old, Nietzsche’s ideas endure and exercise singular influence after 120-plus years.
His work, such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, carry some of the most radical and profound ideas in the discipline, influencing generations of thinkers. Nietzschean philosophy is arguably the starting point of existentialism, nihilism and continental philosophy as a whole.
One of the biggest themes throughout his corpus is the rejection of objectivity, whether it be in morality, emotion, art or knowledge. The idea that probably makes this theme most transparent comes in a phrase first appearing in his 1882 book The Gay Science. This is the phrase that “God is Dead.”
For a bit more context, Nietzsche tells us, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?…Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
He is not speaking literally. Nietzsche’s goal here is to tear down the presupposed ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that comes with the belief in God. It is his goal to show that there is nothing but belief that makes these values real. And by his declaration that God is dead, these preconceived values are as well. Thus, we become the Gods and can create our own conceptions of good, right, wrong and evil.
But Nietzsche? In letters to friends scribed in his later years he very clearly expressed his dislike of nationalism and anti-Semitism, saying all anti-Semites should be shot dead. Why did he then get bunched together with Heidegger?
It was the work of his sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche. As the philosopher suffered from serious mental illness in the years leading up to his death, she was granted ownership of his estate including all writing, both published and not. She then edited his unpublished works to fit her ideology, which was German ultranationalist.
How do we know she had Nazi affections? She was a member of the Nazi party and, when she died in 1935, Hitler attended her funeral. Therefore, even though Nietzsche made his opinions on anti-Semitism and the underpinning of Nazism quite clear, it was not done publicly. This allowed his sister to alter his work and left Nietzsche to be remembered as a Nazi.
Fortunately, after WWII people realized this, set the record straight, and Nietzsche is now appreciated as the philosopher he really was.
But what if that never happened? Just because Nietzsche did not make his thoughts on German Nationalism—a topic not related to philosophy—known, his legacy was nearly tarnished. Don’t make the same mistake Nietzsche did.
Tell people what you think, even if it isn’t directly related to what you’re working on. It allows you to control the narrative about yourself and not leave it in anyone else’s hands.