‘Opinions’ is one of the hot-button topics of today due in large measure to the impact of President Trump’s behaviour as presidential candidate and president of the United States.The combination of Mr Trump and social media has created the ‘perfect opinion storm’ which continuously engulfs the news media and claims attention from all of us. There has been no U.S. president like Mr Trump for the daily impact he has had on us in the way he has changed the ‘climate of opinion’ about opinions. A major effect of ‘Storm Trump’ is that his behaviour has single-handily legitimated the expression of any ‘opinion’ and his example has validated the sense of entitlement to ‘my opinion’ no matter how outrageous, discriminatory, or ill-founded. He has brought confusion to political discourse and provoked the normally restrained news media into calling him a liar, describing his statements as lies, and characterising his behaviour in the strongest personality terms. Trump-as-role-model challenges us to think about how we form, hold and use opinions – an unintended benefit perhaps, but one we should not (cannot?) forego. The crisis he has unleashed has also gifted us an opportunity (or forced the necessity?) to bring some clarity to the confusing field of opinion-making. A Case Example We can use Mr Trump himself as a case study for us to think about shaping our opinions and, specifically, whether we form the opinion that he lies. Keeping a grip on truth in the midst of ‘Storm Trump’ demands much effort and diligence, more than most of us can sustain. In time, we can expect that even the rolling audits which various news media and political websites are compiling on the truthfulness of his words and deeds will become demanding. Many people will have an opinion about Mr Trump’s behaviour such is his impact worldwide and this poses the question as to how this opinion was formed or acquired. And, if we do not have an opinion already about the status of his endless flow of claims we decide, one way or another, where we stand on Mr Trump relationship to truth in a way that we have not had to do about most U.S. presidents. We have two options: opt out or engage our minds. For many, even at this early stage of Mr Trump’s presidency, his behaviour is too much and it is already a question of ‘tuning it out’ to preserve peace of mind. Alternatively, his opinions behaviour requires economizing on our attention – coming to a sustainable assessment of it so that we need not think about his every turn.
Metaphors are essential for conveying the intangibles of life – feelings, ideas, beauty. Great leaders understand this and it is part of their effect on people – how they affect people and induce them to share their vision. Most of the metaphors we use in our daily lives are dead. We hardly ever notice them. They have become clichés and we treat them (unconsciously) as literal.Hence the deadness of most communications. So, when a fresh metaphor comes along, we sit up. It helps us understand something in a new way and think about it differently thereafter. Many today are looking to understand President Trump – how he thinks, how his mind works – and to convey that idea to others. Few do well at it. And David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist of the New York Times, has now given us one of the best so far about Trump’s thinking. When he says that Trump’s thoughts are “often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar” we see President Trump in a different light. Could we do better to convey the feeling of that mystery of mysteries?
The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie made a positive impact with her call in the TED Talk We Should All Be Feminists and in her pamphlet of the same title that for all our sakes we should all work towards gender equal cultures. Recently, after she gave an interview to Kathy Newman on Channel 4 News (10 March 2017), a barrage of condemnation broke loose around her. The interviewer asked her if it mattered how one arrived at being a woman and, particularly, whether a trans-woman who grew up enjoying the privileges of being a man is any less a woman. Here’s her response: “When people talk about, “Are trans women women?” my feeling is trans women are trans women. I think the whole problem of gender in the world is about our experiences. It’s not about how we wear our hair or whether we have a vagina or a penis. It’s about the way the world treats us, and I think if you’ve lived in the world as a man with the privileges that the world accords to men and then sort of change gender, it’s difficult for me to accept that then we can equate your experience with the experience of a woman who has lived from the beginning as a woman and who has not been accorded those privileges that men are. … I don’t think it’s a good thing to talk about women’s issues being exactly the same as the issues of trans women because I don’t think that’s true.” In an overall interview about a number of topics lasting only 4.5 minutes, this was reasonably clear, one might have thought, especially as she had been critical of the wrongful use of binary categories. Her core point was about “the whole problem of gender” being about experiences – “the way the world treats us”. From that premise she explained that she did not see the experience of a (non-trans) woman as being the same as a man who has “been accorded those privileges that men” enjoy and then transition to becoming a woman. How could the life experiences be the same? There is too much variability for that without crude aggregation of people. That is not much different from saying that the life experiences of everyone are different – no two people are exactly alike – a daily reality, one would think. It was sufficiently clear what she meant in the interview context, although it might have been clearer – and better for avoiding argy-bargy – had she qualified her statement about ‘us’ with the parenthetical adjective above, i.e., referred to ‘non-trans women’, rather tjan ‘women’. Nevertheless, people rounded on her on the basis of the implication which they drew that her position was that trans-women aren’t ‘real women’ and she was called transphobic. Adichie posted an elaboration on her Facebook: “I see how my saying that we should not conflate the gender experiences of trans women with that of women born female could appear as if I … Read More