In one of Anne Frank’s diary entries, if read with modern sensibilities, there is evidence she was a lesbian. When I read that entry, I prepared a defense against anyone who subscribes to this conspiracy. My knee-jerk reaction was to explain why she shouldn’t be used as a gay icon—though I had never heard of anyone assigning her that role.
I was the theorist.
As a nascent writer, I’m trying to outgrow the habit of opining about anything that crosses my eye. And as a long-time internet user, it seems that that’s what everyone does: hold and state an opinion on everything. But as we do this, we set up a straw man of our opposition so we can fortify our own echo chamber. It’s what I did on behalf of Anne Frank—without anyone to contradict.
An eagerness to defend my opinions has gotten me to the point of reading articles and comments and listening to podcasts and sermons through the eyes of my opposition. But even then, it’s not through their eyes but through my caricature of their eyes. I’ve missed many opportunities to learn something for myself when I’m thinking about what others should learn from it.
So, here are some principles I now try to apply when an issue fills the headlines and people seem ripe to hear my hot take.
- Distinguish the personal from the political. Specifically in the LGTBQIA+ conversation, controversy on the news skips over the personal to get to the political implications. “Political gays,” as I call them in my mind, are the ones making homosexuality more of an identity or issue than it needs to be. If I communicate about them, I try to focus on the issue at its deepest point: the heart, rather than dissecting every platitude they shout.
I trust the testimonies that there exist gay homebody couples who don’t back the rallies and parades. These folks I call “personal gays,” again, only in my mind. If I befriend them, I listen to their stories of living a non-traditional life; me believing it a choice and knowing it was no small thing to come to that belief, much less carry it out.
With other topics too, my priority is the personal heart needs of the individuals. What led them to hold the opinions they do? What might they be misunderstanding about the God of the Bible? And I’m not usually this generous, but: What might I be misunderstanding about them?
- Hold my tongue. I reconsider whether I have anything to add to the conversation. The answer is always no, truthfully. But if the need to speak becomes overwhelming, I take time to formulate a thought. Of course, by the time I’ve developed it, the national conversation has moved on. There’s a time and place for immediate responses, I suppose. But more often, there’s not.
- Be concise. When teaching students or lecturing my three-year-old, I tend to talk too much. As I draw out the thesis, I start to think of all else that would be helpful on the topic and harp on that. But in doing so, I get away from my audience who only had enough mental attention for a couple sentences.
I’ve spent more of my life theorizing what I would say than making the time to develop a friendship in which I could share my hot take. I’m ready to talk, but first I need to listen.
– Scot Bellavia