Saturday, May 1, 2010

Minnesota Nice vs. Honest Opinions

This week has been chock full of opinions...opinions everywhere, as far as the eye can see, but the strangeness has been how few of them actually got voiced. I know I'm not alone in this feeling that the art of good conversation is dieing in this country, and perhaps the world.

Some will blame the internet and it's shorthand language, some will blame the PC correctness of our censure-ship in the media.....pretty much all media, which I find not only insulting but SAD. That "be careful what you might say, it might offend someone" or the polite friendly nod of the head and smile you get from your friends or co-workers when they don't know what to say.

Let me clue you in on something, that nod is not because they agree with you, that nod is because they either disagree and are afraid of confrontation, or of being attacked because their opinion differs from yours.

Or something I've grown to hate even more when said at the beginning of a good conversation, not at the end, is: "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree." WHAT THE HOUSE~!

I mean that's a fine statement to make at the end of a good conversation or debate, but at the beginning? Before you've even had your say? Seems very Minnesota Nice to me.

And before I get too wrapped up in this let me give you the definition of Minnesota Nice from the documentary by Jeffrey Schwarz about the Coen brothers' movie Fargo, and i quote this from Wikipedia, there is more if you want to look it up on your own.

(Clears throat and continues)

"Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of long time Minnesota residents to be courteous, reserved, and mild mannered. According to Annette Atkins, the cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation. It can also refer to traffic behavior, such as slowing down to allow another driver to enter a lane in front of the other person. She notes that critics have pointed out negative qualities, such as passive aggressiveness and resistance to change."

This definition also reminds me of a lyric from the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods, where the witch sings, "You're not good, you're not right, you're just nice." Boy does THAT hit the mark.

How many times have you run into people who won't tell you the truth that you are after, when you ask for an honest opinion, but instead they either humor you with what they think you want to hear, or lie. Those little 'white lies' that supposedly mean no harm. But don't they harm? I mean if your not being honest then how does the other person know you, the real you? They might assume if you are nodding and smiling that you agree with them. What happens later, when they find out you feel completely the opposite?

I find this behavior to be in a great majority of the younger people I'm meeting these days, and I wonder if it has something to do with them growing up with all that censure-ship that was just starting back in the early-mid 80's after my generation was, for the most part, all grown up and in our early 20's.

Why are so many people afraid to state their opinions in a good old fashioned conversation? Sure you may not change anyone's mind by offering your opinion, but you might too. The one thing for sure is you'll never know unless you try.

I think some of it may come from the double standard that if you are say a strong willed woman with a head on your shoulders and not afraid to express an opinion, well, then you're a bitch. But if you are a man then you are well spoken, and intelligent. MUR? I'm not sure I understand, and I'm sure my male friends will jump on this and I welcome them to remind me that men can be overbearing bastards as well, but lets stay with what society has decided for the stereotype. I think you might agree that most men can get away with saying the same thing that a woman will be considered a bitch for saying.

Just because your opinion differs from someone else does not make you a bigot, or that you are judging the other person or their opinion. It's just an expression of conflicting ideas, or a conversation. I find conversations where the people agree all the time to be quite boring, and find it refreshing when I met someone with an alternate viewpoint. They might not end up being my friend in the end, but I bet we both learned something from the exchange of ideas. And as opinionated as I am, I have had my mind changed on several issues just by having the guts to listen, and stand up for my opinion. Its amazing what you learn when people aren't afraid to share.

I actually think that people who are afraid of conflict or have any of those wonderful qualities in the Minnesota Nice definition, especially those passive aggressive types, are actually afraid to express their opinion. Maybe they've been attacked once too often by those people who pretend they want to have a conversation, but really only want to hear themselves talk. You know the type, they tell it like it is, for a long time, and every time you try to comment they either keep going, or won't let you debate them. Or realize you don't agree and aren't going to be Minnesota Nice, and they can't handle that.

I'd like to challenge you all this week to have an opinion, and stand up for it, with your friends, co-workers or loved ones, and see if you only get intelligent conversation from people who agree with your opinion. See how many give you that smile and nod instead of showing you who they really are. And I'm not talking about business personalities here, where you might have to smile and nod. I'm talking with your real life. Your friends and lovers.

I'm pretty lucky I guess, I've chosen to surround myself with friends who aren't afraid to express themselves, even with someone as opinionated as I am. But maybe that's also because I believe that if you are truly friends, you can say anything to each other, and it won't ruin the friendship. If you can't be honest with your friends, you need new friends.

Cheers....and here's to always telling it like it is. . .even if it hurts. :)


  1. Well said!! I know I'm guilty of being Minnesota Nice and honestly I hate myself for it. But most of the time I just feel that there is no point to argue with someone who isn't listening anyway, so I nod and I smile and pray someone saves me from that conversation. "You're not good, you're not right, you're just nice." <--that's me!

  2. Sadly, we live in a world in which probably the vast majority of people aren't accustomed to thinking or analyzing things logically, so they aren't equipped to defend their own positions, let alone evaluate someone else's. So, when someone expresses a contrary opinion, they automatically react with defensiveness and hostility, because that's all they've got.
    I certainly understand why reasonable people hold back their opinions at times. Sometimes one just doesn't have the mental energy to open up such a can of worms. I agree wholeheartedly, though, that we shouldn't feel obligated to hold back solely for the sake of some misguided sense of politeness. Disagreement isn't inherently impolite in and of itself, after all!
    That goes double among friends. If you can't even express your honest opinions to the people you call friends without fear of being verbally assaulted, they're not very good friends.

  3. Dear Anonymous, I think you make a very good point that sometimes we just don't have the strength to open up a can of worms. I'm reminded of something my mom always use to say to me when I was argumentative. "Never argue with an idiot, people might not be able to tell the difference." And that has held my tongue many times. thanks for the opinion.

  4. There is always that outside chance that an opinion is not constructive. It is given for entertainment or just to have said something; because it makes the speaker feel good to have said it. Sometimes that's necessary and sometimes that's selfish. It can be hard to tell the difference, especially when the topic is one that is important to you. Opinions given often enough for the sake of only the speaker can lead to a case of 'the boy who cried wolf' when an opinion is needed. Its sad, but I think its true. Tis the nature of human beings to judge and be judged.