musings > general musings

Having opinions is a zero-sum game

25 Nov, 2015 · 4 min read

When people look back on the ’10s, it’s difficult to imagine what word they will use to capture the Zeitgeist of the decade. Terrorism? Climate change (still…)? Some as-yet-uncreated emoji? Two words that I have will no doubt make the shortlist: feminism and mental health (it’s one word, for the purposes of this preface).

This week saw ‘International Men’s Day’, to varying temperatures of reception. In the public image, there seem to be two of these days. The first is an antithesis to International Women’s Day - a response from people who think themselves witty when, on March 8th, they ask the question ‘but fellas, when is our day?’

I’m not going to engage with that part though. For me, the other aspect of International Men’s Day is the only one worth thinking about; using the day as a platform to encourage men to talk more openly about issues such as depression, anorexia, and really any mental health issue that they might be facing.

By now you’ll probably be familiar with the following statistic: the most common cause of death for men under 45 in the UK is suicide. Men, stereotypically, are really bad at talking about health in any capacity (and no, I don’t count Facebook updates from the gym), and when it comes to mental health, we’re even worse.

I read an article this week decrying one University’s decision to not recognise International Men’s Day - in any sense. While the article itself wasn’t so oblique in its criticism, the inference from the headline (“Male… student commits suicide on day his university ditches international men’s day after pressure from feminists.”) was that a specific group of people were at least in part to blame for a young man’s death. Reading the article, it transpired that the young man had in fact completed suicide before the University made it’s decision, but the point of the piece of writing was to highlight the perception of IMD as “misogynistic rhetoric”, and that too little was being done - by anyone - to champion men’s mental health.

It strikes me that we as a society are so caught up in the idea of competition. Whether through social media, or in conversation, we can’t voice an opinion - most of the time - without fear of someone else deciding that we are against them. The whole world is a zero-sum game where to have one opinion is to detract from the validity of another.

Google Search graph of the word Opinion
From a Google search of the definition of ‘opinion’. The graph showing mentions, in particular, I find really interesting.

I wrote this post on Thursday morning - straight after I read the headline I mentioned. But I’ve been sitting on it since then worried that my wording would somehow come across that I support the anti-feminist connotations of IMD. Or even that I think the cause of feminism is ridiculous - or worse, dangerous.

It’s a feeling that I felt last weekend as well, in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and Beirut. There was a lot of discussion on whether it was right to update your profile picture with the tricolore, or why whatever that person over there was doing to express their grief, or sorrow, or solidarity, was wrong, and what they should be doing instead.

Of course this wasn’t all that was being discussed. There were a great many discussions adding to the collective’s education on a number of issues. But that the first lot of conversations were happening was - to my mind - incredibly sad.

This holds true whatever the scenario - from terrorist attacks, to mental health, to what freaking football team you support. There is a culture - derived from where I don’t know - that tells us that our opinions are an absolute. That we are in constant competition to assert our point. And there’s a large part of me that finds unnecessary competition incredibly dangerous. If you don’t ‘win’, the lesson is that you weren’t good enough, that your opinion (or work, or whatever) wasn’t a good thing.

I’m a relatively well educated, white(ish), cis-gendered, heterosexual male from a middle class, middle income background. As a result, I struggle with articulating thoughts like this without it seeming like I’m doing so from an ivory tower atop the moral high ground.

That said, how does my talking about mental health on a Thursday in any way impede your ability to talk about the income gap on a Friday? Or even on that self-same Thursday?

Opinions aren’t a zero-sum game, and neither are issues - any issue.

Let’s stop treating them like they are.