Everyone has one, no matter how irrelevant the topic might be to their actual life. And everyone, according to every commentator on the Internet who can’t actually substantiate their argument, is entitled to an opinion. You know the way it goes. A person says something that is perhaps inflammatory or offensive, a handful of people provide an argument to the contrary and the original comment-maker says “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion!” or something along those lines. They use it with authority, as if their opinions are sacrosanct.
Back to basics.
I think many of us have forgotten the fundamentals, when it comes to opinions. Let’s start with the dictionary definition:
|synonyms:||belief, judgement, thought(s), school of thought, thinking, way of thinking, mind, point of view, view, viewpoint, outlook, angle, slant, side, attitude, stance, perspective, position, standpoint|
This is the primary definition of the word opinion, from Oxford Dictionaries. It can also mean a statement of advice by an expert on a professional matter. In this instance, the primary definition is the I want to expand on here.
A view or judgement.
This is essentially an echo of how we feel about something. We might hold that view because of the values our parents passed on to us or because of religious teachings we adhere to. We may have formed them after a life event- big or small. Or they are something we have come to after taking in information about the subject at hand. Either way, they are the sum of our feelings about a given issue or subject.
Not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
This second part of the definition is super important. Opinions are often not formed on a solid and factual basis. They are, as mentioned, the sum of our feelings about an issue or subject. Those feelings may or may not be rational. They may or may not be factually correct. The opinion holder may or may not be educated about this particular issue. They might have significant biases and prejudices. There are a million ways in which an opinion can be compromised by emotions and other influences that can make the opinion unreliable.
The thing with opinions is that they are flexible. You do not have to hold the same opinion forever. Opinions can, and should, change when new information is presented. Screeching “IT’S MY OPINION!” isn’t a valid defense of whatever (possibly awful) idea you’re clinging to.
If new information is being presented, take a look at it. Read more. Ask questions where appropriate. You don’t have to change your view, of course, but I think we should all be open-minded enough to have a look. If the information isn’t compelling, that’s one thing. No one should ever change their opinion based on a David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe meme, for example. But if it’s information from a good source, it bears looking into, at least.
You’re not a leopard; feel free to change your spots.
I know being wrong sucks; trust me, I have PLENTY of experience there. I have held bad opinions. I’ve expressed them and been thudded over the head (with varying levels of gentleness) with new information for my troubles. It does not feel nice. Nobody likes it, I promise you. But here is another thing I’ve learned:
If you take the new information on board and change your opinion accordingly, it feels good. You have chosen to learn something instead of refusing to educate yourself. Just like how scientific consensus changes when new evidence comes to light. That’s why we have globes to represent earth. When we learned it wasn’t flat, shit changed accordingly. Well, for most of us, anyway.
You can say “I used to think xyz, but my friend sent me some information. Then we had a few chats about it and I have read up and realised xyz wasn’t correct. Now I know that abc is true.” Seeing someone do that is admirable as hell. They’ve put aside their discomfort to try to do better because now they know better. It’s hard to do! And anyone who is trying to help you to learn something is going to respect you for that. The fact that they’ve gone out of their way to counter your opinion with (hopefully) facts and information is your clue. They want to help you to know better. They’re not interested in rubbing your face into the fact that you used to have a less educated opinion.
We should all make that effort.
If you do find yourself in a position where your argument is otherwise indefensible and all you can do is carry on about your supposed right to think or feel that way, it’s time to check yourself. Ask yourself why you feel that way. Weigh up the facts that support you against your feelings. If your feelings outweigh your facts, there might be some unpacking for you to do.