Versa | An opinion on being opinionated

“Oxford: it’s all down to your interview” teachers crowed at us in assemblies.

“They want to know what you think, not what you’ve read in a textbook. Be confident in saying it, argue your case, it’s all about your opinions.”

So, well done you. You’ve done it; you’re here. You sent off the personal statement, sat the exams, submitted work, endured the interview, sat more exams, gained the grades. You’ve arrived at Oxford University, the home of discussion, disputes, and debate.  Now shut up.

I don’t want to hear what you think.

Do you have something interesting to say? No? Then be quiet.

Do you have something new to add to the conversation? No? Then be quiet.

Are you involved in the situation of with the person you are talking about? No? Then be quiet.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against people expressing their opinions. I don’t want to sit in silence staring at my feet and twiddling my thumbs because no one wants to talk. I want giggles and gossip, to babble and blather, to have deep conversations about how big the galaxy is in a secluded corner of a party at 5am, or to loudly proclaim my protest for cheaper university fees or for the end of war. As students we need to say things, whether we scream and shout them or stutter and stammer them.

It’s just, I don’t want to hear your opinions.

They’re probably a waste of time. We all have opinions. It is assumed that we each have approximately 50000 thoughts a day, many of these likely to be shaped by our opinions. We also probably tend to have the same opinions, or in the cases where opinions differ, these variations have been discussed at great length before. So don’t think that you’re special, don’t think that you’re important just because you have one too. Your opinions aren’t a divine discourse transcended from the heavens. We do not want to be ‘graced’ with their presence.

It’s not just that they’re waste of my time. They’re irritating. Amongst outspoken and opinionated people in Oxford there seems to be a competition for who has their head rammed the furthest up their own ass.

Most people don’t much like Katie Hopkins and her ideas. And if you’re opinionated, you’re no different from her: it’s pretty safe to say that people don’t like you either. You’re not different because you’re waxing lyrical about the unfairness of electoral system instead of baby names, or because you’re in your gown in Hall instead of perched with a blow dry on the This Morning couch.

If you are so inclined to express your opinion, in a venue full of people who are also desperate to voice their opinion, then there is a facility in Oxford perfectly designed for you. The Oxford Union: where you can pay £242 for the privilege of sitting on stiff benches in a icy hall straining to hear a couple of students with an inflated sense of their self-importance wax lyrical about the system, a system which, in all likelihood, has given them more opportunities than the majority of the population have.

This incessant talking isn’t limited to the Oxford Union however. Oh no. Every meeting, every class, every tutorial, drags on and on and on, as Rambling Rebecca and Digressive David express opinion after opinion, thought after thought, expressing the same point over and over again until they reach a conclusion.  Ironically, this conclusion always seems to have been the one reached fifteen minutes previously by the rest of the group. By this time I’ve missed the opportunity to hit Alpha Bar before the queue starts, my friends are pissed off with me because they think I’ve forgotten to meet them and have wandered off, and I’m late to my next class.

Free speech is a human right, I’m not denying that. However, opportunities to express your opinion to an audience is a privilege, and should not be overused. On a macro level it is important to recognise your position in the world, to note the importance of voicing your opinion, and to use it carefully and in a considerate manner. On a micro level it is important to understand whether your opinion is relevant, whether it is interesting, whether it is original. It is crucial to understand that silence does not equate to ignorance.

It is a class issue. At a comprehensive school in a classroom packed with thirty pupils and an overworked teacher who cares about very little other than making it to the bell without having a chair thrown at them, you learn very quickly that no one cares what you have to say. Just get 5 A-C grades at GCSE.

At any fee-paying school the relationship is different. As it is your parents who pay the teachers, the teachers have a duty to listen to you, to (pretend to) care about your opinions. You are told that you are interesting, and encouraged to expand your views further. Opinions here are encouraged, not dismissed as a disturbance that lands you in a detention.

Once you leave the bubble of Oxford, you’ll soon find that no one will listen. You’ll soon find that unlike your teachers or tutors, no one is being paid to. Likewise, suddenly all those ‘friends’ from Oxford will desert you, excuses such as ‘I’m busy’ and ‘cannot afford it’ becoming almost like the auto-reply feature on Nexus.

If you really want to express an opinion to a large audience, write an article. That way people can just hit ‘exit’ the moment they hate your opinion.

Tags: free speech — katie hopkins — opinions — oxbridge