Opinions: Mine, and Everyone Else’s

This post contains my opinions on a few hot topics and I want to start by talking a little bit about opinions in general. (Yes, I know I’m sharing opinions on opinions before I actually share opinions on specific subjects—I tend to get meta like that, real quick.) I like to make it super-clear when I am opining on something and I also like to make it clear when my opinion is informed by lived experience or evidence and when it’s not. (In general, I try not to share the latter type, because that’s generally known as “talking out of your ass.”) This may be yet another negative consequence of social media, but these days, people seem awfully prone to sharing their opinions about things that are none of their business and doing so in particularly loud, strident, shouty ways. And while everyone’s certainly entitled to their opinions about random shit out there, I’m not sure how entitled they are to share those opinions in particularly hurtful, dumb ways.

As an example: I saw opinions online from people who saw recent Best Picture winners of Academy Awards—films like Parasite and Everything Everywhere All At Once—and they go on and on about how terrible these movies are. That’s ALL they say—that these movies are terrible. They don’t even say, “I thought these movies were terrible, but maybe I wasn’t the intended audience,” or, “I didn’t enjoy these movies, but I admired what they were trying to do.” Nor do they show ANY consciousness of the fact that movies—Academy Award-winning movies, in particular—have been historically dominated by white filmmakers and white versions of stories without any breathing space given to creators of color. No, they just state their opinions as if they are fact. I’ve had friends and relatives do this to me in real life, too—like, if I mention that I had a good meal at a restaurant, they’ll say, “Ugh, I HATE that restaurant. Why would you ever go there?” So it’s not just about THEM hating the restaurant—it feels like they’re attacking me for MY choice, too.

In other words, maybe you could tread a little lightly, friends and colleagues, when sharing your opinions! Why not add a dash of nuance or context, just for the hell of it? Why not leave the door open for, you know, discussion, instead of paving the way for an exchange of verbal blows?

Okay, that’s my first opinion. Here are my opinions on other topics I’ve either been asked about directly, or have been raised in my presence:

CHAT GPT: I have not yet experimented with this artificial intelligence-powered tool. From what I gather, you enter in a series of prompts or questions, like, “Help me write a speech on such-and-such a topic,” and you enter in a few relevant and qualifying details, and then boom, the tool will spit out a reasonably coherent-sounding draft of the thing you wanted, like immediately.

I get why people are freaked out by this tool’s existence and potential nefarious applications, which are many. (Although I wonder why these people weren’t also freaked out by an incredibly powerful search engine or digital platforms that can connect us to anything and store an enormous amount of data on our information-seeking habits.) People have shown me the results of their queries and while I’m impressed by the flow and sound sentence structure of the writing, I must say, I am not worried about my work as a writer. I just think there’s a HUGE difference between an okay essay and a well-written, thought-provoking, powerful one.

The other thing is, there’s an awful lot of mundane writing that has to happen in the workplace—especially if you work in communications, like me. Things like press releases, handouts with background info about the thing you’re communicating about, web copy, etc. I’m not saying that Chat GPT can replace human writers on these tasks, but when you have to churn that stuff out at a high volume, I can totally see how Chat GPT can give you a running start and help you tackle that to-do list that makes you want to weep inside.

Can Chat GPT be abused? Of course it can. It is simply ripe for plagiarism, imposter fraud, evil-intentioned propaganda efforts (hello, anyone remember the Mueller investigation and what Russia did to undermine our democracy?). While communications entities like media outlets and publishers have controls in place like fact-checkers and editorial standards, newer digital tools do not. Which makes me wish that technology companies would, you know, develop a social conscience at some point—and make active efforts to do no harm rather than put out a cute company tag line about doing no evil when, in fact, there’s a thin line between “doing” no evil and just sitting around and letting evil happen. OR, submit to more regulation and oversight. OR, both.

DEI ORGANIZATIONAL WORK, HOW’S IT GOING? It’s been good to see so many organizations in the social sector, meaning, nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, being more visible and open about their efforts to learn about and embed diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work and organizational cultures. It is not good to see how many people are sick of DEI trainings and are also tired of not seeing any real change or progress at their organizations. As a writer for the social sector, I want to give space to what everyone is learning and/or doing on the DEI front, but my bullshit detector is ultra-sensitive these days. Don’t ask me to write about your equity-focused work unless you’re committed to it for the long haul. In other words, if you keep on treating DEI work as a one-off project, instead of treating it as a state of being and culture that you will work on for the rest of your tenure at your organization, your DEI efforts are sure to flounder.

Oh, and I’m wondering if “belonging” will either replace “inclusion” or get added to the trifecta of letters. I must say, I love the concept of “belonging” more than I do “inclusion,” maybe because “inclusion” sounds, I don’t know, vaguely dental?

DEFERRING TO OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS  People who know me think I have an opinion about everything but this is actually not true. Well, it IS true, but what I mean is, I have opinions I don’t express out loud because other people have offered a take that is miles better than anything I could have come up with. Sure, there are lots of hot-air pundits out there, getting paid to bloviate and say nothing on cable television or on podcasts or Substack. But the Internet has also brought me people whose opinions I value very highly, so much so that it behooves me to stay silent and simply share their take instead of my own (with clear attribution and provenance, otherwise that would be plagiarism).

Examples of this? Well, six foundation leaders shared a joint statement on pluralism in philanthropy that made a LOT of people hot under the collar, and after reading it, I can see why the leaders thought this statement might be a good idea (we are all sick of fighting with our colleagues and family members over fundamental value differences). I resonate MORE with the outrage this piece provoked—how do you make space to work with organizations which support policies or programs that help codify structural inequities and racism?

However, I’m not interested in screaming about why the statement was a good or a bad idea (even though I think the latter). I am interested in finding someone who can offer a well-reasoned take on why this joint statement felt so wrong. My go-to source for thoughtful, hilarious, and withering takes on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector is Nonprofit AF, and while I know some people find Vu Le’s opinions to be uncomfortable and a little too radical, I’m not one of those people. His take on the joint statement was masterful—the title alone is on point.

For racism/equity commentary, in general, I follow people like the author Roxanne Gay (through the New York Times), author Damon Young (through his Facebook page), and Rinku Sen, head of the Narrative Institute. For opinions on where to eat and where to go and where to buy, I do a lot of research online and tend to trust some sites more than others (Trip Advisor and Yelp over Open Table, for example, or The Strategist over the Wirecutter).

In other words, I’m masterful at following other people’s opinions, and filtering out the opinions from people who are either having a terrible day, or are just hardcore wingnuts. Understanding how, and when, and where to offer one’s opinions—and when NOT to—is a skill that I will spend my lifetime learning. You should think about where you’re at with respect to that skill–in my opinion.