Lately I’ve been fascinated by the oft-used media cliché “breaks silence.” No doubt you’ve seen this phrase appear in numerous headlines. Just in the past week, we’ve seen silence-breaking from Soon-Yi Previn on husband Woody Allen’s family troubles, Ariana Grande on the death of ex-boyfriend Mac Miller, and Serena Williams on her outburst at the U.S. Open. It’s just such an irresistibly dramatic turn of phrase. The implication of “breaks silence” is that some great truth or revelation is about to be imparted. It also insinuates that in the modern age, anyone who has already not weighed in on anything of note is analogous to a J.D. Salinger-esque hermit, and that finally giving your take (even if your silence lasted only days, or even hours) amounts to an overdue return to civilization.
Of course, that’s a pretty unreasonable, if not untenable, supposition. Which is why “breaks silence” frequently comes off as hilariously overwrought. When Victoria Beckham “breaks silence” about an unflattering wedding photo, or Ariana Grande’s brother “breaks silence” regarding Miller’s tragic demise, it’s worth asking: Does anyone notice or care in most instances about a lack of commentary? No. No, they don’t.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that in 2018, silence truly does seem broken, perhaps irreparably. The news cycle now is driven by prominent people who are not qualified to pontificate on a particular subject but nonetheless do speak with disastrous results, and then are signal-boosted repeatedly by professional and social media. Again, there are many examples just from the past week, whether it’s Sean Penn bloviating incoherently about “what they call the movement of #MeToo” or any number of absurdly over-confident pundits defending Brett Kavanaugh and definitively ruling out the need for further investigation into whether he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford in the early ’80s.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people you could add to this broken-silence class — Norm Macdonald, Jian Ghomeshi, Roseanne Barr, Elon Musk, James Gunn, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, and sweet Jesus I already feel exhausted. In nearly every instance, you see a celebrity getting in trouble for speaking on topics that are way, way, way outside of his or her lane, with virtually no shot at an upside.
Over and over, I find myself wondering why an extremely helpful phrase remains so woefully under-utilized. I refer to the five most useful words in the English language: “I don’t have an opinion.”
How wonderful is it to not have an opinion? Extremely wonderful! It’s so liberating! But it also necessitates a certain level of self-awareness and even self-deprecation. You have to recognize that on most topics, you don’t really have the time or inclination to put in the work required to have something of value to share.
If you can accept that, you will be flying. There is no better drug in the world than typing one of your terrible, selfish, ill-informed, and thoroughly half-baked opinions into Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and then not posting it. It will instantly make even a normal, boring day seem like the greatest day of your life, simply because you decided not to have a take that might embarrass you publicly.