Sharing your opinions with others is risky business. I have learned this truism far too often for my own good. I like to think that I am not a very opinionated individual but this is a myth I still too often tell myself.

An opinion, says Webster’s New World College Dictionary (1997) is “any belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid or probable to one’s own mind.” Face it, most of us have opinions, some of us have a lot of them. If we are alive we have opinions. These opinions influence almost everything we see and do in life. What seems true to us actually informs us and these opinions guide us. What we fail to do is to put all our opinions to the real test. Are they truly valid? On what basis did we form them? Do we have all the facts at out disposal to really support them?

Assuming our opinions actually do line up with what is true, at least so far as we understand the truth, then I believe we should ask: “Do we really need to share our opinions?” This is a very different question altogether. If by “share our opinions” we mean to write about our views on a subject in a public forum then I think the answer is yes. This is the essence of editorial writing, sharing opinion. But we must be responsible and careful and never slander or lie. But if by “share our opinions” you mean you tell a good friend what you think of a decision that they have made, or a view that they hold, without them actually inviting you to share your opinion, then I think the answer is no. This is precisely where I often go wrong.

My tendency is toward the prophetic. I enjoy a good intellectual forum where differing views are debated and discussed. But this does not give me the inherent right to tell a friend what I think of his decision or ideas unless he wants me to tell him. I have violated this simple principle far more than I care to admit. I see an issue and feel rather strongly about it. I have a friend who is involved in this issue in some way. I feel that it is right for me to tell him what I am thinking about his stance on the matter. Time and time again I have regretted giving my opinion in this context. It is always better to remain silent in such circumstances.

A friend recently wrote about how we handle the dreams of others, especially those in our own families. As your children become adults you must, sooner or later, come to realize that your opinions are just that, your opinions. You may feel like you have the right to challenge the dreams (I am not talking about specific sins here) of your adult children (e.g. they are being unwise in your opinion) but you will very likely make a mistake if you approach their dreams by seeking to impress upon them your opinions. My friend puts it this way:

I suggest that we handle the dreams of our loved one’s very carefully. If our wisdom is rejected, it doesn’t mean we are being rejected. What happens if they subject themselves to advice their hearts believe to be false? Years later, they wonder … they feel cheated, they feel invisible. If we support them, believe in them even when doubting the wisdom of their decision, no matter what happens the bonds of love remain in tact. A choice to not believe in them is a choice to no longer share a major part of their lives, as well as a choice to be ever associated with the greatest of their regrets.

This isn’t simply about parental wisdom; it’s about the respect we show to the dreams of others, as well. You are not him. She is not you. We stand or fall before God for what we do with our talents. How can you tell her what she must think, feel, believe, or do? You can encourage, you can question, you can challenge but when you start acting god-like, telling her the path she must take, then you have gone too far. Even if you turn out to be right, the relationship is now damaged, if not over.

Those are very good words. I am still learning to stay out of other people’s business, especially their dreams. When I take it upon myself to act in a god-like manner I almost always mess up the relationship. I resolved again this week to respect my children and good friends enough to never tell them my opinions unless they ask me for them. Come to think of it they do ask me it is generally because they want my opinion and they will listen. I think it comes down to allowing God to truly direct my steps. Do I have enough faith to trust God working in my child or friend’s life without me having to tell him what I think?

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  1. Bruce Newman February 26, 2010 at 8:13 am

    You’re certainly stepping on my toes here, John. I do much better in this area today than I did years ago. But that’s because a moment’s reflection on the times I said many stupid things is humiliating.
    It’s with my sons (and wife) that I look back and cringe about many things I’ve insisted on saying. My oldest son is in the Air Force and sometimes calls me and wants to know what I think about something. This at least tells me I didn’t botch it up too badly with him. My other son is different and keeps more things inside. It has been difficult at times not to give in to the temptation to be judgmental with him. When I’ve done so it’s always been a mistake I regretted.
    Yet, learning to keep silence is something I still need to make more progress in. I find myself much better off to the degree I’m faithful to it.

  2. Ed Holm March 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I turned 62 in August, so I am just up the trail from you. It is an odd time when you hit a number that has significance once again. The last one was more than a decade past. Now, you can no longer pretend age is of no importance. For me it came with the understanding that I did not have a lot of decades to waste. I came to the conclusion that a thirty year mortgage was out of range, there would only be a few more new cars and that I was not likely to become a father in my remaining years. Don’t think that these were depressing thoughts- there was just some gravity about it all in a way that, say, 43 did not have. I am more active now and more intellectually alive than I have been in decades. I have better friends and am involved in more things I love than I have at most any time. It’s just that I (we) have reached a point where the wine of time has become aged to perfection. It is time to drink deeply from that vat and savor its bouquet and flavor which only comes with time. Happy Birthday John, Enjoy

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