Let’s Talk About… Opinions

By Jeremy Godwin.

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast/article about improving your mental health and wellbeing by Australian author and speaker Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on one specific topic and is full of practical advice for improving and maintaining your mental health and wellbeing.

This week I’m talking about opinions – how opinions – both our own and other people’s – can impact on our mental health, and how you can make choices that have a positive impact on your wellbeing and others’ wellbeing. Listen to the podcast now in the Spotify player below or continue reading for the article version.

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Introduction

Opinions. Everybody’s got one, and a lot of people think that their’s are the only ones that matter! Which is fine, and each to their own, however there’s a huge difference between constructive opinions vs. destructive opinions; today, I’m going to be focusing on the negative effects of destructive opinions alongside the positive effects of constructive opinions. 

A lot of this should probably seem like common sense – however if you just take a few minutes to flick through social media and especially if you see the comments sections on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, you’ll quickly realise that it’s become second-nature for a lot of people to just spout off whatever comes to mind without thinking through the impact of their words or the consequences of their actions. I’m constantly advocating in every episode that if you want to look after your mental health and wellbeing then you need to be focused on putting kindness and compassion out into the world (because what you put out comes back to you)… so you can probably guess that one of my main points this week is that if you engage in this sort of behaviour you are not only causing damage to other people, you’re also causing damage to yourself – because people who are satisfied with their lives don’t attack other people. I’ll talk some more about this in a minute, but first let’s talk about some definitions of opinions and how it relates to mental health and wellbeing.

Defining ‘opinions’ and how they relate to mental health

An opinion is a viewpoint, but more than that it’s a judgement – a judgement of something or someone as being good or bad, valid or invalid, worthy or unworthy. Opinions aren’t necessarily based on fact or evidence; instead, more often than not they are based on emotion. Everything I do and say in this podcast every week is a matter of opinion – yes, I share content that is built around solid research and what I’ve learned through my formal education, but it’s all filtered through a lens of how I perceive the world; in other words, my values and beliefs. That’s the thing about opinions: they’re always going to be strongly associated with what you believe and what you don’t believe, and it can be a real struggle to challenge and change our long-held belief systems – but sometimes that’s necessary, because it forces us to grow. 

There are six main types of opinions:

  • Positive opinions we have of ourselves
  • Negative opinions we have of ourselves
  • Positive opinions we have of others
  • Negative opinions we have of others
  • Positive opinions other people have of us
  • Negative opinions other people have of us

Each type of opinion can have a direct impact on your mental health and wellbeing. What you think about yourself – the good and the bad – can either serve to lift your self-esteem or drag it down, and I know from personal experience that when you’re struggling with major mental health issues like depression or anxiety (or, quite commonly, both at the same time) it can be hard to push past all the negative thoughts you have of yourself, which can lead to a downward spiral of low confidence and fading self-belief.

Then there’s the opinions we have of other people. If you think you don’t judge other people, even on a subconscious level, you’re wrong. We do it all the time. When someone drives like an idiot on the road, I judge them. When someone walks into me in the supermarket because they’re too busy looking at their phone, I judge them. Here’s the thing though – what you do next with that judgement is where the constructive or destructive comes in. If you externalise it – in other words, say something or post something online – you’re putting negativity out into the world based on assumptions. You never know what that person is going through – they might be driving like a maniac because they’re rushing to get to a sick loved one, or they might be focused on their phone in the supermarket because they just received some important news. If you choose to respond to the initial judgement with kindness and compassion – letting it go instead of reacting – then you are creating a very different set of outcomes than if you were to go into attack mode. I’ll come back to that in a few minutes.

The third type of opinions are the ones other people have of us. Just like I form a judgment or perspective based on my views and beliefs, so too are other people doing the same when we interact with them. The difference is that when it comes to your own opinions, you are completely in control – but with other peoples’ opinions, the only control you have is over what you do with them. Again, I’ll get into that in a lot more detail shortly.

The impact of opinions

Opinions are highly personal, and we are never going to agree with one another 100% of the time – I mean, that is the very definition of individuality, because we are all unique with our own individual perspectives on every subject possible. Even those of you who listen to or read Let’s Talk About Mental Health aren’t going to agree with me 100% of the time, and that is totally fine! It’s okay to disagree with me, and I can’t force you to agree – just like nobody can force me to agree with them if I don’t. Where we run into problems is when we insist on sharing our opinion with others when it is steeped in negativity or where it is based on incorrect assumptions, misinformation or our own prejudices or narrow-minded beliefs, or when we put too much focus on other peoples’ perspectives and allow negative, destructive opinions to influence us or take away our satisfaction.

Here’s a sort-of funny story to illustrate my point… a couple of weeks ago I had just been talking about opinions with someone and I mentioned that Dita Von Teese quote, the one that goes “you can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches”, and then not even 24 hours later I had someone leave a pretty nasty message on Instagram criticising me for being unqualified, a “snake-oil salesman” and trying to make money out of mental health in a really aggressive manner without taking the time to actually see what my background is. 

Anyway, I’m a professional and as much as I knew that it had nothing to do with me I’m also not going to let someone attack me without at least calmly clarifying my position and giving the person an opportunity to dial back their misplaced anger and nastiness. So, I replied politely and said that I agreed broadly with her point however I do have a degree in psychology and sociology, and that I’m doing post-grad studies in the field currently, but that she raised valid points about people trying to make money off mental health without having any actual qualifications or skills, and that I wished her all the best. So, how do you think that went down? If you guessed, “like a lead balloon”, you would be absolutely right! She replied back the next day calling me egotistical for listing my qualifications etc. etc.; which was pretty ironic considering that her initial message was accusing me of being unqualified! So, I let it just be “water off a duck’s back”; I deleted her comments and blocked her. Because there is just no point arguing with people who are determined to lash out at others in an aggressive and hateful way – that stuff has absolutely nothing to do with you; it is 100% about the other person. People who are satisfied with their lives don’t go looking for fights. People who are satisfied with the person they are don’t attack other people for no valid reason. 

Look, I know Let’s Talk About Mental Health isn’t going to be for everyone – and that’s okay. I guess what I’m trying to say here is we all have a choice when we don’t like something or agree with it – we can either attack and be nasty, or we can be mature and let it go because we know that we don’t have to comment on everything we don’t like. Just because you have an opinion, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world needs to hear it! 

I’ve told you all before about how obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race I am, and each season there seems to be at least one or two contestants who get absolutely ripped to shreds by some members of the audience and I think it’s completely unfair. I know there was a contestant last year who just rubbed me the wrong way, but I’m an adult and so rather than attacking them online I simply choose to acknowledge that they are just not for me and be done with it. I don’t know how it happened but we seem to now live in a world where people seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to be vile and nasty to one another online just because they can, using social media to attack people and therefore intentionally or unintentionally spread negativity. 

It’s no wonder we live in a world where more and more people talk openly about feeling depressed and anxious, because on one hand we’re more connected than ever before but on the other hand we’re using tools like social media to spread hatred. It has to stop and as Gandhi said, “For things to change, first I must change,” so I am saying that every single one of us needs to be conscious of what we’re putting out into the world when we share our opinions. Negativity will attract negativity back to you; positivity will attract positivity back to you.

Look at what happened recently with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. First, they were relentlessly attacked in the press – not just in Britain, but elsewhere – and a lot of it was thinly-veiled hatred for Meghan based on her race, past career choices, previous marital status… I mean, there was even a photo dug out of her as a young woman on holiday in London posing with a friend out the front of Buckingham Palace which was positioned by the media as proof that she had been manoeuvring herself for years to marry into the Royal Family, instead of just doing what every tourist does on their first trip to London and posing outside a famous landmark. The vicious commentary was never-ending, with people behaving as though she were some sort of witch who had cast a spell over Harry and forced him to fall in love with her. Then when the two of them decided they wanted a different life, that they wanted to do what was right for them and their son, all hell broke loose. Look, I don’t care whether you like the Royal Family or not, and I don’t care whether you like Harry or Meghan or not – that’s your personal opinion – but at the end of the day they are human beings and they have the right to choose their own destinies. I for one say good on them for the decision they made because you need to focus on what’s right for you, not on the opinions of others.

Opinions are just noise. If you let your life be controlled by the opinions of others, you will never grow and you will never find satisfaction because it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Some people use opinions to try to control others – which is bullshit. If you’re not harming anyone, including yourself, then do what you like.  

We’ve had far too many times throughout human history where people have been hunted and persecuted for their beliefs and just for being themselves, and to be honest you’d think that we would have learned by now but we haven’t. It’s not like it has ended – today, the flaming torches of the angry villagers have been replaced by keyboard warriors on social media who often hide behind anonymous profiles and take great joy and pleasure in attacking as many people as they can. There comes a point where each of us must make a choice – engage or don’t engage. If you want to look after your mental health and to put positivity out into the world, then you have to choose to look after your mental health and put positivity out into the world.

When we choose to put our opinions out, what we’re trying to do is to have people either agree with us or notice us. Trying to get people to agree with us is wasted energy: you don’t have to be right all the time, and you’re probably not anyway. Even if you are in the right, does it really matter? I mean, don’t just give up on making any contribution to society at all – because we’d be back in the dark ages if we all did that! – but also don’t waste your time arguing with people who cannot see reason because they’re hung up on their own hatred and general unpleasantness.

The reality is that there are some people (especially on social media) who just want attention. That’s why people so often attack soft-targets like celebrities online: to be noticed. I mean, there are many people who have made a whole career out of being malicious towards other people (most of whom seem to do it to deflect attention from their own not-so-great characteristics).

When we share negative opinions either online or in the real world – even if it’s just supposedly as a bit of fun or indulging in a bit of gossip or making a joke – horrible things can happen to people. I just did a feature the other week in Issue 19 of the Mental Health Talk newsletter about the tragic passing of Caroline Flack in the UK – the sad reality is that she died because of trial by media and trial by social media, both of which are completely unfair and completely wrong. We had a similar situation in Australia back in 2014 when Charlotte Dawson, a well-known television personality, died by suicide following ongoing issues with cyber-bullying. I just don’t understand what the satisfaction is that people gain from attacking people – I’m not perfect, but I would feel sick to my stomach to know that I had made someone miserable like that. 

People are people. I don’t care how much money you have in the bank, what you do for a living, how well-known you are – we all need to stop treating other people like shit, both online and in the real world. And if you think that one person can’t make a difference, you’re wrong. Every single person who chooses to pursue positive actions instead of spreading hatred will make a difference, because when you refuse to engage with people who try to attack the more you will spread positivity. 

How to deal with opinions and improve your mental health

So here is the main point of this week’s episode: when you put positivity out into the world and deflect negativity, you will find your overall mental health and wellbeing improves because you are focused on positivity – and what you focus on grows. How do you do that? Let’s talk about the different types of opinions.

First, let’s start with you. The next time you think something negative about yourself, acknowledge the thought and either turn it around into a positive or choose to let it go. And make a point to spend at least a few minutes every day consciously focusing on the positive in your life – daily gratitude practice can work wonders for reminding you of all the wonderful things in your life and getting you to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Choose to be kind to yourself. 

The next time that you have a strong opinion about someone on reality television or who is in the public eye or an acquaintance, stop and think before you do, say or post anything. What value will putting your opinion out into the world have? Will you be adding negativity, spite, nastiness? Or will you be adding positivity, kindness, compassion? As my grandmother always said, “If you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all” – and if you apply that philosophy, along with the old “two wrongs don’t make a right”, you’ll be streets ahead of the people who haven’t woken up to the reality of just how much our words and actions serve to shape the world around us. In the words of Paulo Coelho:

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”

Paulo Coelho

The next time someone attacks you or writes an argumentative or nasty comment on a social media account about a topic that you feel strongly about – don’t engage. Each action you choose creates a chain reaction of either positivity or negativity, so make choices that are focused on kindness, understanding and compassion. You can always choose to be the bigger person.

If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.

Look, I’m not saying that we should all just bury our heads in the sand and stop calling out injustice when it happens – far from it – but we crossed a line a while ago and now a lot of people feel it necessary to share every negative opinion they have, resulting in people attacking one another (especially on social media). Stop it. We are better than this. When it comes to opinions: reduce negativity, increase positivity- because what you put out comes back to you.

I also want to make a special mention of particular people and publications who make a living out of sharing their hateful opinions and drumming up scandals and drama, because if you consume that sort of media then you’re part of the problem. Matt Haig, author of the brilliant book Reasons to Stay Alive, has been talking about this a lot on social media lately especially since the passing of Caroline Flack, and it’s something I’ve been saying for a while now: stop buying these publications and watching programs presented by egomaniacs who rip people to shreds for the public’s amusement. If you don’t want to be part of the problem, be part of the solution. Because nothing changes if nothing changes.

So, this week I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time on the how-to section because my opinion is that – aside from those three points I just covered – the rest of it should be pretty obvious. There are five simple steps to follow when it comes to opinions:

Step 1: Have an opinion

Step 2: Identify if it’s constructive or destructive

Step 3: If it’s destructive: either let it go or keep it to yourself; if it’s constructive: share it – so, if you see something online that you don’t like, remember that you do not need to comment on it! If you see something you do like and you have a kind and constructive comment to make, feel free to express it!

Step 4: If someone is sharing an opinion that is weighed down by hatred, discrimination, bullying and vilification – do not be part of it; instead, choose to walk away. And certainly don’t try to fight fire with fire, because two wrongs don’t make a right. Stop giving these people an audience, otherwise you’re feeding the flames.

Step 5: There are no more steps. End of discussion!

And when in doubt – hit that block button, either online or in real life; don’t waste your time getting into arguments with people who haven’t worked out that they are a big part of the problem. My policy is to give one attempt to engage in a positive manner – because as I have said before, I don’t believe in ‘cancel culture’ and I think there can be a fine line between misunderstanding vs intentional nastiness, so until I work out whether or not you’re being nasty on purpose then I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt (after all, John & Yoko did suggest we should all give peace a chance!) – but if you come back at me with nastiness, we’re done. Don’t choose to be part of the problem; choose to be part of the solution, by choosing words and actions that are kind and fair and considerate. Let everything else be water off a duck’s back – like RuPaul says, “Unless they’re paying your bills pay them no mind…” and there’s also my favourite, “What other people think of me is none of my business” – I mean, you’re never going to be everybody’s cup of tea, and besides that people form an opinion about you which is based off a very small part of your overall personality combined with their own perspectives, prejudices and beliefs, so if you tried to satisfy all 7.8 billion people on this planet you would find it an impossible task!

Do what you do; do it with kindness and compassion, and make choices that are focused on positivity above all else, and you will attract more and more positivity into your life. It takes time and it takes practice – and it most certainly takes a thick skin and a willingness to persevere, because there are some nasty people out there who will try to bring you down to their level – but you have the choice, and your choices are where your strength and your power can be found, one step at a time, one day at a time.  

What it all boils down to is this: opinions are highly personal, and we are responsible for the decisions we make about whether or not to share our opinions. If you put out negativity then that is what will come back to you, whereas if you choose to only put out positivity then you will find you experience the world in a much more positive way. Treat people the way you would like to be treated, and make choices that are fair, kind, balanced, and informed. Like Confucius said, “Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” If every single one of us made a choice to do that each day, we would see the beginning of a very different world – in the meantime, even just one small change can make a difference, so be conscious of what you’re putting out into the world. 

Summary and three main points to consider

To summarise: everybody is entitled to their opinions, but when your opinions are destructive (either to yourself or other people) then you have crossed a line. You’re responsible for what you put out into the world, by way of how your treat yourself and how you treat other people, so choose to speak and act in ways that are grounded in kindness, compassion and understanding. As you focus on letting go of negativity around you and within you, and instead focus on bringing more positivity into your life, you will find that your overall mental health and wellbeing improves – because, to paraphrase what I said earlier in the episode, people who are satisfied with their lives have no need to attack themselves, attack other people, or allow themselves to be attacked; people who are satisfied with their lives are too busy being positive and living a life that feels genuinely fulfilling.

To wrap up, here are my three main points for you to consider:

  • You, and only you, are in direct control of your words, actions and feelings. What you say and do are up to you, so choose to be constructive when dealing with other people but also when thinking about yourself.
  • What other people think of you has nothing to do with you – if they like and support you, great, but if they don’t then it’s not personal (even if it feels that way)… move on and find the people who do get what you’re about.
  • If you put negativity out into the world then you are part of the problem – choose to put positivity, kindness, and compassion out into the world and do your part to change things for the better.

Reflection

As always, I’m going to close out with a quote I’d like to encourage you to reflect on and consider what it means for you. This week’s quote is from Mother Teresa, and it is:

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.

Mother Teresa

So, that’s it for this week! For more content, go to:

  • Website: Head over to www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for more information about Let’s Talk About Mental Health and to sign up so that new posts/newsletters will land in your inbox, and you can also find all past episodes on the website (click here to jump to the Episodes page)
  • Podcast: You can listen to the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast via your preferred platform (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and others) as well as an audio-only version on the LTAMH YouTube channel
  • Social Media: Connect with me on social media – you can find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamhofficial (I post extra content daily)

Next week I’ll be talking about regrets – I’ll be talking about why we have regrets, how they can impact on our mental health, and how to work through your regrets so you can get past them for the sake of your wellbeing. I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning Australian time.

On Friday I’ll be sending out the next issue of the Mental Health Talk newsletter, which is a weekly round-up of articles and resources focused on good mental health and wellbeing – sign up at the Subscribe page on the website to have the newsletter land in your inbox every week.

If you’re looking to work with an experienced coach who specialises in mental health and wellbeing, I offer coaching services to clients anywhere in the world via video conference – have a look at the ‘coaching’ section of the website for more information and my rates. Visit: www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/coaching

Have an absolutely fantastic week! Until next time, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world – because you get back what you give out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s episode/post, please share it with someone you know because word of mouth is a great way to help other people find Let’s Talk About Mental Health or take a moment to leave a five-star review on your preferred podcast platform. Thanks!

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.

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