Being Accountable: Living Above the Fray

above the fray I snapped this picture flying from Denver to Los Angeles this week. Though it appears that I was above the Colorado Rockies, or above the clouds, I was actually above the fray.

And it was wonderful to be there.

I believe in free speech and, like you, I’d defend someone’s right to speak freely even if what they say is contrary to my beliefs. But I fear that sometimes, in this great land of ours, we have taken “free speech” to an extreme place, where people—can you imagine!?!—share opinions without knowledge.

It might be best to just stay above the fray.

Here’s what I know:

I can never win an argument on Facebook.

Can you?

And yet, people continue to try by posting links, espousing half-arguments, quoting other people whose lack of knowledge rivals their own, and forwarding meaningless celebrity rants.

Take the recent emotionally charged debate over the legal decision in Florida where, sadly, a life was lost.

No matter which way the verdict had gone, here’s what I do know about that case:

I wasn’t there that dark night. Were you?

I wasn’t on the jury. Were you?

I know nothing of Florida law. Do you?

The truth is, I know little to nothing about a whole bunch of things.

While in the Baltimore airport in early 2010, a couple of business gents sitting nearby were debating the proposed “ObamaCare” law. I kept my nose in my newspaper. After a while, one turned to me and said, “What’s your opinion?”

“Me? Oh, really, I don’t know anything about the field of healthcare. In fact, the whole matter confuses me on every level.”

Then his friend said, “But you must have an opinion, right?”

So I responded with, “Well, my input would be that health care in this country can certainly be improved, but, as a general rule, I’d rather not have our federal government get any bigger. Beyond that, I don’t know what the answer is.”

And that’s all I said. Because that’s all I knew.

They pondered my limited comment for a moment, nodded thoughtfully, and then went on to debate the upcoming Super Bowl.

I love this line, often attributed to Mark Twain:

It is far better to remain silent and be thought a fool

than to speak and remove all doubt.

Now that is something that should be posted on every single form of social media!

Recently, my good friend and trusted adviser, CPA Bob Feis, was visiting Karen and me in our home when I expressed frustration over not understanding more about “wills and trusts.” In response, he spoke kindly, “It’s not your expertise, John. You’re an expert in other areas.”

And I thought, Yeah, I guess I am considered an expert by some people, and I don’t have to be an expert in all things.

In fact, I cannot be.

Can you?

Many times in my life I’ve opened my mouth and removed all doubt of my ignorance. In Parenting the QBQ Way, Karen writes, “John’s never had an opinion he didn’t share out loud!”

It’s true. If I’m not careful, I’ll give unsolicited counsel before asking enough questions. But, in my efforts to practice personal accountability in all areas of my life, I’m more often “remaining silent” when I don’t have anything informed to say.

And there are many benefits of doing so:

  • Less stress and “emotional turmoil”
  • Additional energy
  • Better use of my finite time
  • Increased focus on the right things
  • Greater joy
  • More credibility when I do speak

And, I simply look wiser. (The gray hair helps, too.)

Above the fray. When my opinions are not rooted in knowledge, facts, or first-hand experience, that’s where I want to live. It’s a great place to be!

Will you meet me there? 

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20 Responses

  1. John, I appreciate the timely reminder with Mark Twain’s eloquent words! Just last week I shook my head at a copy of a news article sent to thousands of facebook readers. It related partial facts and bits of truth here and there but the piece was so cleverly written that people reacted with intense venom to the awful story. As it turned out, very little of it was even remotely factual. Do your own research! Get the facts! Staying above the fray, to me, means exercising personal discernment and self government.

  2. That has to be one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes. The one below also fits nicely to your topic.

    “I’ve never learned anything while I was talking.” Larry King

  3. So true especially your remarks about Facebook. The quote from Mark Twain is really from the Bible: Proverbs 17:28 New International Version (NIV) “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.”

  4. Well said. We take time to pray for all involved, and then the resonance from your bullet on silence—Better use of my finite time—takes over. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Reminds me of sage words from my father: “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” Looks like we have to check out the facts for ourselves. Thanks, John.

  6. I think in addition to your eloquent description of one of our largest social issues, I would suggest that we try and role model use of critical thinking skills in such discussions as a basis to add to the commentary in a constructive way. At the core of the issues that we all have our “opinions” are underlying issues that go unaddressed within the fray.

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