After spending a few days with my four-year-old niece, I started wondering about when and how we start forming legitimate opinions about our world. I use the word legitimate to mean an opinion that we form entirely from our own thoughts without influence from the people whose own opinions we value. My case in point is the answer to the question, “What is your favorite color?”
For about two years now, my niece has consistently answered that question with the color ‘orange’. It is a unique choice for a favorite color, especially for a girl. But she has stuck with it for more than half her life. She favors orange crayons and orange clothing, and at this time of the year, orange colored food. (She loves Dunkin Donuts ‘Fall Harvest’ donuts – covered in bright orange frosting and sprinkles. They look disgusting to me.)
“What is your favorite color?” is one of the very first questions we are asked as children when we are just learning how to name objects. It is the first question we are asked where our answer is never challenged. As long as you answer with a real color, you are rewarded with smiles and the acceptance that your choice is a good one. No one can ever tell you that your answer is wrong.
I wonder though at the persistence of my niece’s choice. She can’t possibly remember the reasons for choosing that color, if she had a reason at all. For myself, I do remember why I originally chose ‘purple’ as my favorite. It was because Donny Osmond wore purple socks on the Donny and Marie Show. Or at least that is how I remember it now. By the time I approached teenage years, purple started to feel immature and I switched to green, because my eyes are green. (It seemed important then to have a specific reason for changing my mind.)
The whole idea of a favorite color was very important to me, and to a lot of children, as it is one of the few things completely in our control. Now, although it seems unimportant and arbitrary, I still would respond to that question with the color green. Why?
I formed that opinion so long ago in a mind I can’t even recognize as my own, (my diaries from the age of 13 really do seem as if they were written by a stranger) but I have never changed it, nor do I want to.
Is it one of those things that have been burned into my synapses by constant repetition, like nursery rhymes and old movie lines? Or is there more to it?
Is the sensation of affinity for a certain color something that we simply recognize and verbalize without any real ability to influence the decision? In other words, was my decision to change my favorite color simply a reaction to peer pressure and not an honest change in my opinion? Will my niece change her mind when she starts to be aware of other people’s opinions on color and when she discovers her favorite isn’t flattering to her skin tone?
Maybe I should give purple a second chance.
So, what is your favorite color? Has it always been your favorite?
Since my own education wasn’t so great, I won’t assume that everyone knows what hyperbole means. It means to exaggerate on purpose. As an example, “Your suitcase weighs a ton!” The suitcase in question probably weighs close to 50 pounds, but certainly does not weigh a ton, and neither the speaker nor the listener actually believes that it does. But the exaggeration clearly makes the point that the speaker thinks the listener packed too much stuff for a weekend getaway.
In my writing I try to avoid hyperbole. If I consciously exaggerate just to make a point, I will lose my readers trust. Even a statement like, “The tree’s limbs stretched all the way to the clouds,” which is a pretty way to describe a tall tree, sounds false to me. I don’t use hyperbole in my writing because I don’t trust purposeful exaggerations. I don’t like poetry for that same reason. Just say what you really mean, and don’t use twice as many words to do it. It’s a tall tree, done.
But I feel the opposite when it comes to speaking. I use a lot of hyperbole when I’m speaking, especially when I’m trying to make a point and my listener isn’t paying enough attention. I would never say, “A man in the park climbed a tall tree,” while talking to friends. I would say, “It was the biggest tree I’d ever seen, and the dude climbed all the way to the top, right up to the clouds!” It makes for a much better bit of conversation that way. It’s almost as if I need to advertise myself, just to get people to listen to me. Maybe that has to do with growing up in a large family. The only way to be heard was to tell the craziest story imaginable, full of hyperbole and strong emotion.
Lately, I’ve been making videos and uploading them to my YouTube channel, and I find the videos where I use a lot of hyperbole, (OMG! I hated this book! It is the worst book ever written!) receive a lot more ‘likes’ than the ones where I convey honest emotions and feelings. It is the same problem all over again. Over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube, and I have to fight to get one minute of that attention focused on me.
But if the point of doing the YouTube videos is to bring attention to my writing, will those watchers be disappointed to find my writing is simple and to the point?