On Keeping Your Opinions to Yourself

My brother will be looking for a job soon, and so far he’s ignoring my advice to clean up his Facebook profile. The problem isn’t wild party pictures, he’s quite the diligent student, it’s his wild political views. My philosophy is that when you’re selling something, including yourself, you should be as inoffensive as possible. Posting extreme political beliefs guarantees you’ll alienate a big part of your market.

So when I recently ran across this quotation from Mark Twain, I smugly noted that he agreed with me:

Sane and intelligent human beings … carefully and cautiously and diligently conceal their private real opinions from the world and give out fictitious ones in their stead for general consumption. — Mark Twain in Mark Twain in Eruption: Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men and Events
This year is the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death and his autobiography is hitting stores November 15. According to the publisher, Twain left strict instructions that the book “remain unpublished for 100 years [so that] he would be ‘dead, and unaware, and indifferent,’ and that he was therefore free to speak his ‘whole frank mind.'”

In other words, you can think of AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN as a 100-year-old version of Twain’s uncensored Facebook page (although I’m guessing it’s better written than the average Facebook page).

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7 Responses to On Keeping Your Opinions to Yourself

  1. Wow, I’m slightly surprised that the publisher respected his wishes for it to be published 100 years later!

    Nice post, though. It is definitely a topic that people should think about.

  2. Mignon says:

    Good point, Sophie. It’s my understanding that there’s no way an author can enforce wishes such as waiting to publish for a certain amount of time after death. You can only rely on whoever controls your estate and hope they respect your wishes.

    In a couple of “Behind the Grammar” podcasts I’ve talked about Kafka and how his books were published after his death even though he requested that they be burned.

  3. Jake P says:

    Mignon, very cool Twain story & quote. Hadn’t heard either before.

    I tend to agree with you on keeping to the middle. But I recently interviewed a social media expert who advises her clients to take sides on controversial issues, because it instantly identifies/attracts people who are in philosophical alignment. Thought it was an interesting contrarian view, though certainly huge potential for backfiring.

  4. Mignon says:

    Yes, Jake. I had also been thinking that maybe there’s a downside to my advice. My brother could end up being hired by someone who shares his beliefs and liked what he saw on my brother’s Facebook page.

    It makes me wonder if workplaces will become increasingly politicized. Interviewers may have been reluctant in the past to ask about political beliefs, but now they can find out just by scanning social media profiles.

  5. TR says:

    I only allow people to see the content of my facebook page who are directly friends with me. if you see my facebook page outside of that circle you will just see a name and a picture and no other info. i think if you let everyone see your facebook page it’s a gamble. twitter on the other hand….

  6. Eileen B. says:

    I totally agree. Which is why I have “I vote for Josiah Bartlett” on my political views on FB. Josiah Bartlett is the character from West Wing, so tend to lean toward fictional characters when it comes to political views. It’s cleaner that way. The ability to write and edit would be marvelous to real-live politicians, no?

  7. Mignon says:

    TR, it’s a great point that a lot of people only let real friends see their Facebook accounts. I have a friend who regularly reminds me that I don’t use Facebook or Twitter the way “normal” people do, since I have so many “fans” (I always feel weird saying that…thus, the quotation marks) who are strangers and who I accept as friends.

    I encourage people to follow me on the Grammar Girl Facebook page instead of my personal page, but I have a lot of Facebook friends from before I made the Grammar Girl page.

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