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A daily newsletter to which I subscribe poses a question to readers at the end of each installment, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical and sometimes mundane.  

Readers can enter answers in the comments section or simply ponder for themselves (as I usually do).

The question from a few days ago caused some introspection on my part: What is something that you privately believe but generally don’t feel comfortable sharing in public?

This particular query was based on results of a study cited earlier in the newsletter, indicating a majority of Americans “feel they cannot share their honest opinions in public for fear of offending others or incurring retribution.”

I will not go into all the intricacies and statistics from the study (send an email and I will be glad to share the link to it), but its authors do not see these results as a good thing. In fact, they believe they “pose a threat to individual freedoms, community flourishing and democratic self-government.”

Stated simply, if the results of the study are to be believed, many of us are saying what we think others want to hear.  

What that means is probably a discussion for another day, but I think the question offered is an interesting one, causing me to wonder about my own opinions and whether I would have the same concerns about publicly airing them.

Do I coddle people by giving the impression I agree with them? Also, what about staying silent and not offering an opinion? Where does that fit?

Some of you might think I have no problem putting my thoughts and ideas out there for the world (or at least Williamson County) to see, since I do it in this space from time to time. Over the years, some of you have taken issue with opinions I have stated (which I appreciate) and one of you even told me I was courageous putting a certain idea into writing (I guess because it would be a minority view in this community).

But you might be surprised by how much I hold back, especially when it comes to controversial topics. While I enjoy throwing the occasional curveball, it is – whether you believe it or not – never for the reason of promoting further controversy.

It is, rather, for the simple reason of helping all of us think. I know the likelihood of changing someone’s mind is less than slim, and I do not propose to do that.

The New Testament writer James wrote that it is good to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I have found those suitable, though difficult, words to live by.

While I appreciate the study referenced in the newsletter and the points made, and I think it is important to be honest, I think being slow to express an opinion, and sometimes declining to do so, can be a viable option, if not a healthy practice.

If I find myself in a group and an opinion is voiced about a certain topic, and others chime in agreeing with the person who started the discussion, and I remain silent, that silence sends a message. If I choose to speak and offer an opposing viewpoint, it is likely to escalate the conversation into a non-productive argument.

I am not saying it should always be this way. Again quoting Scripture (this time the Old Testament), there is in fact “a time to speak.” But the writer of this passage balanced that with “a time to remain silent.” Learning when each is appropriate is nothing short of an art form.

There are times when I might think an idea put forth is so antithetical to what I believe that I must speak up. But more times than not, I can stay silent and make my point.

I don’t have social media accounts, so I am spared much of the back-and-forth that takes place among angry folks with time on their hands. I am, however, included in some email threads that start with someone who has a certain point of view about a political candidate or issue, one I might not agree with.

Again, remembering the “slow to speak” advice, I generally remain silent and refrain from hitting “reply,” and certainly from hitting “reply all.”

I might add, because I am sometimes included in these types of discussions and email exchanges, I will not be one to start one. I do not want to ever assume someone agrees with me.

In short, I tend to think a privately held opinion is OK.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].