We humans have an almost-pathological fear of being wrong. This is particularly bizarre with decisions that will likely have next-to-no dire consequences. The worst that may happen is a loss of face. And this is typically overblown too – because, of course, most people are too preoccupied with their own insecurities and fear of failing to pay much attention to you.

I’m a heavy social media user. I justify this by pointing out that I must “keep up” with social media because I run face-to-face courses training groups of people how to use it effectively for business. But I spend a large amount of time on social media marveling at others’ psychology.

I find humans infinitely fascinating, and never more so than when they’re different from me. Being privy to people’s beliefs, thoughts and reasonings never stops shocking me when their inner workings appear very different to mine. I’ve never gotten over the child-like assumption that all of us are fundamentally the same. Except that we’re not.

The unreasonable

One of the most fascinating ‘types’ must surely be the person who cannot be reasoned with. Despite evidence (or “evidence by anecdote” as one of my university professors used to witheringly put it), the unreasonable cannot be swayed. With a little probing, it often turns out this person had a bad experience which has indelibly marked them. No other arguments will be entered into.

The liberal fuzzy thinker

Liberalism is still very much in vogue. Hiding behind the warm, accepting cloak of liberalism, a little scratching normally reveals that the person is, in fact, just a fuzzy thinker. It’s not hard to point out that when someone takes another’s liberty, either through physical violence or verbal abuse, that they lose the right to their own liberty. Indeed, this is taught in schools and universities.

Then we may not need to endure the ‘live and let live’ catchall that obscures a lack of critical thinking under the auspices of acceptance.

The overly fearful

We all live with varying degrees of fear that ebb and flow with the sun. But some amongst us appear gripped with an enduring, all-consuming fear that defies any reasoning. It’s not only a fear of change, but a fear of threats so highly unlikely that they serve only to stoke a fertile imagination.

The overly fearful overthinks everything and rarely makes a move that isn’t dictated by someone else. Of course, fear of making a decision is a decision, with consequences that are often far worse than making a proactive decision.

Straitjacketing opinions

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions,” said Leonardo da Vinci. Our opinions shape our identity – not only to the outside world but internally. Growing old is a process of growing into one’s opinions, as well as reworking your jokes, retelling your stories and, hopefully, gathering more of both.

When one’s opinion is challenged, this can be hugely unsettling. But it doesn’t have to be. When your change of opinion leads you to question or alter your sense of identity, this is oftentimes very invigorating. Knowing that there’s more to something than what you assumed can stoke your enthusiasm for life.

It’s also more than possible to learn to respect, like, or even love someone who’s opinions and beliefs differ from yours – indeed, it shows maturity and breeds character.

The curated identity

Of course, social media isn’t the whole story, but it’s a pretty good reflection of the curated identity. The front which people show to their friends and family, and the thoughts and opinions they share with strangers, is the extent of what their ego is willing to bare. Oftentimes, these conversations can be far more honest than the person would likely be with friends and family due to the relative safety of anonymity, however tenuous that is.

Social media is rife with ‘inspirational’ posts. Positivity is exalted above all else, as reflected in social media engagement. People are lauded for appearing to be having fun (preferably in exotic international locales) and entreating others to cast off the shackles of their boring existences and post similarly joyful and life-affirming quotes, encouragements, and photos. It’s enough to make you want to return to bed and stay there.

For people on the positivity train, opinions that differ too wildly outside of “thanks” and “I love you” are frequently treated as threatening. I was called a peanut (my favourite) for pointing out the logical flaws and empathetic bypasses of an inspirational quote, and dealt with the aftermath – a woman who thanked me for my opinion, saying that she was in stage 4 cancer and found the aforementioned quote insulting. I took it in the gut and attempted to tap out a response that was empathetic without being overly familiar to this stranger.

Amid the circus and charade, there are real people with real heartbreak, who don’t use it as some mawkish marketing story to reel people in.

Being seen and heard

The unavoidable truth is that using social media for marketing is about being seen and being heard. We need to go beyond being agreeable to be memorable, which sometimes means being provocative or disruptive. Being seen and being heard is something which my clients and myself grapple with everyday. We know we should be ‘authentic’ and ‘real’, but how do we make that relevant to our target market? When our opinions differ strongly from the status quo, how do we position these in a way which is helpful and encouraging, not relentlessly argumentative?

When we blog for business, how can we be sure, despite checking our sources thoroughly, that we’re accurate? When we share – through social media marketing, blogging, email newsletters or webinars – how can we know that our opinions encourage others to be similarly self-expressed? When we write, or vlog, or podcast, how do we get over our need to be liked with our desire to be understood? How do we know – really know – if we are understood?

We don’t. Despite fact-checking, proof-reading, thoughtful analysis, we may change our mind. Our opinion and identity will (hopefully) continue to evolve, and our business certainly will lest it become stale, uncompetitive and unsustainable. We may provoke haters and trolls. We may well turn out to be wrong. And that’s perfectly okay.