It used to be easy. When I was in school, I had opinions about everything. Teachers unions are the most reactionary faction in U.S. politics! The fall of the Soviet empire was the most important event in the second half of the twentieth century! Somewhere in the 1990s, Rob Reiner totally lost it!
Once I was in the workplace, my having an opinion on any outside topic became inappropriate and a potential career impediment. The argument can certainly be made that the voicing of extraneous political opinions is a distraction best kept out of the office. But, in reality, the expression of left-leaning opinions was always accorded some leeway. A picture with a Clinton on the shelf. A gay rights bumper sticker. Hosting a fundraiser for a Democratic candidate. These expressions all occurred without comment. I doubt corporate culture would have been so accepting if I hung a portrait of Ronald Reagan behind my desk.
So I kept quiet. Sometimes, the reticence was simple diplomacy. If your client in a pharmacy merger is a substantial donor to the Welsh nationalist party, you don’t start yammering about your admiration for Tony Blair. It’s irrelevant.
But the reticence was often for career protection. If one of the vice presidents at your company occasionally drops a disparaging remark about Republicans, you shut up – even if everyone else is engaged in a lively political debate. There is no percentage in having an opinion.
But now that I am away from the workaday world, I am surprised to discover that I am still reluctant to voice opinions. The habits of profession are hard to break. Every potential opinion is subject to a cost-benefit calculus – despite the fact that, as a former writer taking a year off to travel and re-learn how to write, opinions should be part of my stock in trade.
Maybe I’ll start small. Customer service representatives seem somewhat under-trained! Then work my way up to more sweeping opinions on important issues of the day. The tabloids are attempting to conflate Eva Longoria’s actual personality with that of her bitchy TV character!
Then I’d be ready for politics again. President Bush spends too much! The resignation of Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra was a blow to Thai democracy! Rob Reiner has totally lost it!