Step right up! Step right up!

“Opinions are like assholes — everyone has one, and it stinks.”
— American proverb

The sickly sweet scent of rotting roses greets my nose each morning, these days, as I step into the Hyde Park that is the Manitoban’s Comment Section. As with any publication actively promoting open dialogue among community members, this section is home to wide ranging views of all sorts. By “home,” I mean a place where ideas are not only welcome, but also expected guests — a place where discussion can take place in comfort and relaxation, while perhaps enjoying a drink or two, or some other social libation.

Now, like any home — park-like as it may be — there are bound to be disagreements. Hell, if everyone agreed, we’d be in some sort of “heavenly” place where “nothing ever happens” — as David Byrne would say — and who in their right mind would wish such a state upon their worst enemy, let alone themselves. No, disagreements are to be as expected and welcome as that buddy of yours who, god love him, can’t help but get drunk at your house and accidentally smash some piece of furniture to bits before the night is over. But it’s all fine and dandy; we are, after all, friends — right?

Ok, that’s pushing this a little too far. I apologize. There is just no way that everyone in a community can get along perfectly, let alone be friends. That’s as ridiculous an idea as that “Heaven” place we just discussed. So, if we can’t all be friends, let’s at least be good neighbours.

Neighbours, whether you like them or not, have to live together, and that is as it should be. If someone, say, living in the duplex suite below you is blasting hip-hop music and smoking that fine, fine chronic all night long while you and your family are trying to sleep, they are not being good neighbours. If you, in turn, show up at their door with a loaded shot-gun and a heart full of rage, then it is you who is now being unneighbourly (and liable to get arrested).

The right thing to do, of course, is to speak rationally to your neighbour about why they are upsetting you. Seeing as we are in an institution — a community — of higher learning here at the University of Manitoba, it should be easy for us to coolly and rationally discuss our disagreements, whether in person, or in a forum such as the Manitoban.

Having said that, petty bickering is bound to happen. I recollect well a time or two in our basement, watching TV, when the room would be rent with the squabbling of us children.

“You stupid asshole,” one of us would say to another. “I wanna watch Power Rangers!”

“Fuck you, you shit-eating idiot,” another would reply. “We’re watching Littlest Hobo!

Someone would hit someone else, and then they’d run to his or her room, crying back over their shoulder, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”

Such is life. As we mature, we leave such petty bickering behind, or at least, such is the ideal. Life is full of moments where we break down, are filled with a blind rage at another’s supposed ignorance, or actions, and we spew forth a string of invective to shame the foulest of soap eaters. In the worst cases, we drop our gloves, and tango toe-to-toe until one or both are left a bloody mess and little, finally, is resolved. Save, of course, the blood letting itself and the catharsis it can bring.

But we should be beyond that here. We should, as a recent article by volunteer staff Matt Abra called for, “drop intelligent words, not bombs” when confronted with ideas that don’t jive with our own. Now, I’m no proponent of that old wives’ adage: “if you’ve got nothing good to say, then don’t say anything at all” — far from it — but, in a public forum where ideas and opinions are discussed, I, for one, side with Mr. Abra.

The bottom line, in my books, goes back to that old American proverb, which I probably picked up from some film from those basement days, forgotten now: “opinions are like assholes — everyone has one, and it stinks.” Whether you seethe at the actions of Israel, or you adamantly stand behind that nation’s right to exist; whether you love or loathe our elected leaders; whether you think chocolate bars or choco-rocko-pops are the best treats ever, it doesn’t matter. If you find you cannot face the fact that someone has a differing opinion than your own without flying into a fit of invective, then maybe university — or the real world — isn’t for you.

For everyone else, feel free to share with the rest of us. Comment online, write a letter to the editor, or, better yet, volunteer an article for the paper. This soapbox, after all, is yours to use as you see fit. Step right up, folks!

Sheldon Birnie, Comment Editor, can be reached at