Some people say you should be assertive. Don’t be wishy-washy. Don’t use watered-down language (“it kind of seems like…”). Don’t be afraid to own your opinion. Blah blah blah. I think this is good advice. (Although I don’t think Brenda Ueland would approve of the negative tone.) I like reading people who sound like they know what they’re talking about and aren’t afraid to stake out a position, even if unpopular.
But what if you don’t know what you’re talking about? What if you’re afraid of looking back on your published opinions with regret? What if even though you’re in your mid-thirties, your beliefs and opinions are still somewhat amorphous and subject to change based on the latest screed you read at www.pusillanimouspundits.com?
I continu’d this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner, you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.
– Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Hmm… I have perhaps just the slightest tendency to be dogmatic. And worse yet, I rarely back it up with sound, well-thought out arguments. If I’m lucky I use as a reference someone who provides credible analysis. But I’d like to gain information and improvement from you, my wise readers. Please don’t leave me in possession of my errors. Speak up and help me provide you with a better forum. And discuss amongst yourselves, also: I love blogs that have a good community of people discussing and debating anything and everything. If we can build something like that here, I’ll consider this web site a big success.
So how will I write? I dunno. I mainly want to provide enjoyment and education for my readers, and I hope I can learn and grow and do a decent job of that. I hope you’ll find something you like. I actually do have beliefs and opinions and with this project maybe I can stop being so intellectually lazy and try to define and sharpen them. In the past I’ve hesitated and procrastinated in my writing because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect, which of course obviously it won’t be. But I want to write, so here I go, imperfect scribblings and all. I’ll write as best I can. Tomorrow I may know better and I may cringe at the things I said yesterday, but then I’ll try to remember my Emerson:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.–”Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.”–Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
Let me be clear that I’m not necessarily implying that I think: (1) I’m great or a great soul, (2) I belong in the company of Socrates, Jesus, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, or that (3) I have a pure and wise spirit.
Getting back to good old Ben and his writings, I recommend A Benjamin Franklin Reader, edited and annotated by Walter Isaacson, with the qualification that I haven’t read the whole book yet. I started it and enjoyed the annotations but found that I wanted to read a biography first, so I picked up The First American, by H.W. Brands. It’s a long one at 784 pages but well told by Mr. Brands and I was fascinated by the story. Franklin is such an amazing person. An interesting person living in interesting times. (You can download his autobiography for free from the wonderful Project Gutenberg, but I’m one of those people that still likes printed and bound books. The Isaacson book is very nice, with many other Franklin writings besides the autobiography.)