“We have the power to hold no opinion about a thing and to not let it upset our state of mind—for things have no natural power to shape our judgments.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.52
I’m having my house renovated by a guy called Phil. Phil doesn’t want to turn the house into his vision of a beautiful house. Instead, Phil really wants me to have firm opinions about socket locations, radiator colours and wood finish.
Unfortunately for Phil, I do not. I have no opinions about these things because until a few weeks ago I didn’t even realise one could have opinions about these things. I certainly will not now form and argue for an opinion just for the sake of saying I had one. He’s the expert; he can figure it out.
Instead of teaching myself interior design, I have been mastering the art of not having an opinion. Not “not giving a f*ck”, but simply “acknowledging that all options are equal in my eyes and moving on”.
This is not to be confused with “refusing to say what I want for dinner in case the other person is too polite to say they’d rather eat rusty nails”. That bit of social dance, where the most you can get out of me is what I absolutely do not want for dinner (rusty nails, thank you), may require therapy.
No, this is a different scenario. It is one where I inspected the options, concluded that I know enough – or nothing at all – to be comfortable with all of them, and moved on. I will leave opinions to people who have a firm reason to prefer one option to all the others. I will leave them until I know enough to come up with my own firm reasons. Or I will leave them and wonder why anyone, anywhere, has bothered to worry about any of it.
Why is this on a work blog, you ask?
Because I’ve worked with people who have lots of opinions about lots of topics. All the topics. Topics they barely understand. Topics that require a crystal ball to reveal all possible outcomes (opinions on these topics tend to boil down to “all change is bad” or “all change is exciting”). Topics that have nothing at all to do with their jobs yet are seen as their hill to die on.
There are very few hills in my work life right now. In a 7,000 person company, most changes – indeed, most status quos – simply do not impact me or my team. They’re background noise, as relevant to me as the “vehicle reversing” warnings from the construction site I can just about see from my study window. And yet I find myself not just constantly answering questions about these topics, but also trying to soothe people’s concerns; people’s negative opinions, based on very little information, about things that don’t impact them yet are somehow menacing.
So today’s tip for tech writers, or tech workers in general: have fewer opinions. Limit yourself to things that impact you, and that you can impact in return, and only if you understand those impacts. If it had never before occurred to you that one can paint a radiator, then quite possibly you can move on from a paint discussion without drawing any lines in the sand.