The Soapbox: It’s For Standing On*

soapbox_hideAs of 2012, there are about 31 million bloggers in the US alone. That’s about one in ten people!

I’m all for people writing blogs. I think most people have something worthwhile to say, and are knowledgeable about something that other folks will find interesting. I think it’s pretty great that lovers of small pewter dragons can probably find several blogs dedicated to discussing only small pewter dragons. It’s a great way to connect to like-minded folks.

I also think it’s perfectly fine for bloggers not to specialize in just one area.  A blogger should be able to set up a blog and write to her heart’s content about any topic that pops into her head. Most people have wide and varied interests, and their blogs can reflect that.

Here’s the problem: many, many bloggers seem to live in fear of the notion of an invisible, judgmental reader.

It’s naive to expect a writer not to consider an audience when she writes. Anyone who submits a piece for publication is aware that other people, including people that the author does not personally know, may come across the piece and read it.  It’s hard not to imagine, honestly, a person critically peering over your shoulder while you type, furrowing an eyebrow and tut-tutting you as you type. Hey, we all like to be liked.

Lots of writers stick to safe topics that will create no controversy, because they fear losing their readership. And that’s completely reasonable. If you typically blog about slow cooker recipes, you might feel uncomfortable launching a post about a politicized issue, and it may be the wrong forum for such a piece.

Many bloggers do choose to editorialize, about all sorts of things. God knows I have opinions. But if you’re going to venture into the world of public opining (and please do not think that I’m saying you must)  you need to have, you know, opinions.

And I get it: it’s scary! But blogging like this requires a sliver of bravery. It is not brave to bring up a topic, tepidly introduce your position, and then retreat by over explaining, apologizing for your point of view, and rushing to reassure readers that you mean no offense. It’s not brave – hell, it’s not even an actual opinion, it’s not fun to read, and it accomplishes nothing.

Why even hit the Publish button on a post like that? Why set out your soap box and then hide behind it? What is the point? What do you or your readers get out of it?

It might even be worse than not productive. It might be counterproductive. My (unusually cynical) view is this: posts where you sort of give one side, then sort of give the other side, and conclude nothing remind me of a lot of bogus product review websites. You know what I’m referring to. You’re trying to choose between two products, and you come across a site that’s supposed to give a head-to-head comparison and review, but instead concludes with bullshit like “in the end, it’s up to consumers to decide what’s best for their needs.” Thanks for nothing, jerk. These sites aren’t really intended to give a real review, of course; they’re intended to generate page views and ad revenue.

Similarly, I think people who write posts that ultimately pretend to have an opinion, but don’t, run the risk of irritating the readers, who may feel they’re being used to pad pageview numbers. Or that the writer doesn’t give the reader the benefit of the doubt. These posts don’t feel honest. As a reader, I’d much rather read an opinion I disagree with but that feels real than a wishy-washy watered down bunch of words that add up to nothing.

It’s possible to give an opinion without being offensive, in almost every topic area. It’s great to back up your opinion with facts and anecdotal experience. It’s even ok to acknowledge the other side of the argument. But if you have an opinion that you feel the need to express, make sure you actually get around to expressing it. Trust your reader to go along for the ride, and to see the YOU that they already know underneath your position. Yes, know that you have readers. But don’t be so scared of them that you tear down what you’re building while you’re building it!

If you don’t want to use your blog to share your opinions, that’s fantastic.

Just remember that if you do, the soapbox is for standing on, not for hiding behind.

*this blog post is brought to you by the annoyance I’ve felt in the last two days reading blog posts about marriage equality, something that I think deserves a real discussion.

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5 Responses

  1. Matt Weilert says:

    Hey Shelley, You go girl! Love the new blog design.

    A free, just and ethical society is based on people vibrantly sharing opinions. In the immortal words of Judge Ann Power, “being offended is not something which is entitled to legislative relief” meaning in plainspeak, (for the case in Italian schools) that if you are offended that someone has the freedom to express support for traditional values, you don’t have the right to tyrannically impose a minority view on the majority, such as is so often paraded before us here in the US, under the theme of equal rights.

    Freedom is never license, freedom is the opportunity to choose the good. Most kids in fourth grade have no trouble discerning the simple truths of right and wrong. Funny, isn’t it, how after four years of public high school and another four (or more) of public college, that number diminishes dramatically!

    • Shelley says:

      Hi Matt, thanks for the comment. I definitely agree that there’s no right not to be offended. There IS an ability to choose not to visit someone’s blog, but I think it’s sad when fear of that possibility paralyzes people who might otherwise have good things to say.

      And on the equal rights issue, I understand that point of view. But often the tyranny of the majority means that rights are trampled on, and that can only be corrected by law – things like slavery probably are “beneficial” to the majority who benefit from the oppression/labor of the minority, but it’s obviously horrible. Also, if we’re talking specifically about whether legal marriages ought to be allowed in America, I guess I fail to see any legal argument against it, AND the majority of Americans now support it. I’ll probably put my money where my mouth is and write my full thought on the issue in a day or two.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Sam Millus says:

    I love this Shelley! And agree 100%! I have struggled with writing for fear of offending ‘someone’ and just recently realized I write for ME! If no one else reads it, it’s ok, it clears my head. Also, you rock! Xo sam

  3. Alyn says:

    In the spirit of your post, I’ll go ahead and argue with conviction that it is more brave and productive to express ideas as they form than to showcase only the most airtight of arguments. It strikes me that wishy-washy writing reflects “opinion-making in process” rather than “opinion avoidance” per se. I have wishy washy feelings about stuff, almost exclusively. Since I write all the live long day, I know that my thoughts form and reform upon writes and rewrites. I also know that my opinion can bounce around violently as I read other people’s thoughts. Sometimes the back and forth is laziness, but sometimes it’s a sign of the mental work necessary to form an opinion. If I waited until I was sure, I might never let another person read my stuff.

    • Shelley says:

      Oh wow, you’re so right. My post failed to take into account people who blog as personal diaries/journals. I 100% agree that the back and forth can be part of the process of forming an opinion – you know that’s something I value – and I shouldn’t tell people that their blogs should be anything other than what the writers would like them to be. Such a good point.

      Rethinking my initial post on this, I’ll clarify: I’d LOVE to read a post where someone says “I’m just starting to formulate my thoughts on this, but as of now I’m thinking…..”

      That’s not the kind of thing that irritates me. It’s super brave of someone to put those thoughts out there. I don’t think expressing uncertainty is a sign of laziness or weakness. At all. Writing to explore a topic has a point. You end up further along the path when you’re done even if you haven’t reached a conclusion yet.

      I guess the ones that sound like a “the more you know/ one to grow on” post for the first 80% and then backtrack to a neutral position at the end are the ones that bug me. I don’t think writing needs to showcase only the best possible argument. But I’m cynical, I think, about bloggers in general. A lot of the bloggers who develop a following seem sometimes to write more posts than necessary. It’s like the fact that they have an audience spurs them to produce post after post, and that’s fine, I guess, but it works best when they have something to say. Jumping on a hot-button topic is fine – if they have something to add to the conversation.

      I’m not sure I can give a definitive way to tell the differences between a piece like you describe – where the author is clearly still working out how (s)he feels about the issue – and one that just lists a few impotent arguments for either side. But there’s something in the feel of the piece that gives it away, and either intrigues me or irritates me. :)

      I’m so glad you posted this comment. You gave me a whole different way of looking at this. Thank you! XOXO

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