This is a post about opinions. I almost trashed it about a million times while writing it because
I have low self-esteem it seemed impossible to lay out what I’m trying to say without sounding condescending, ignorant, or some delicious combination of the two.
However, that hesitation is exactly why I’m inclined to still try to come across even-keeled and impartial even when I know there’s risk. So here’s my take on matters of opinion.
Don’t unfriend me.
I have a lot of opinions. I also have a lot of facts – and most of my opinions are based in fact – but some aren’t; some are just hunches.
You know what sucks about hunches? If you pile too many of them up, you end up with a crooked back from the weight of all your assumptions. For instance, I’ve had a long-time hunch that asparagus is nasty and terrible. No facts support this notion; one day I came into the opinion that asparagus grossed me out and I’ve since operated under the assumption that my opinion toward asparagus was a valid one, surmising that I should therefore not eat it, ever, under any circumstances.
However, I recently contradicted that previously adamant belief and ate a sushi roll with deep-fried asparagus in it. Let me tell you: it was delightful.
I’d like to think this was in spite and not because of the asparagus, but sushi is an adventure in combining discreet flavors to create a unique taste, and the asparagus – regardless of how grody I believe it is – was probably a necessary addition to the medley that I decided was overall delectable. Therefore, whether I wanted to or not, I liked that damn asparagus.
Of course, opinions about asparagus are a little more innocuous than, say political opinions, and this leads me to the thesis of all this blather. I’m troubled by the way we’ve been treating people whose opinions might not be carbon copies of our own. Opinions are often tied to feelings, and feelings are often misleading, because the most persuasive ones – love and hate – are also the most beguiling. They can trick us into being reactive when we should be curious, and they can ruin relationships that could have instead been strengthened by discourse.
Now, there’s literally no one anywhere who shares the exact same opinions as any other one person. And isn’t that sort of why the world is great? Regardless, we still all seem to expect our opinions to be borne of our brains and then exist steadfastly forever in the world as if they were facts, with everyone either accepting them without question or disappearing forever with their dissent.
This is largely because a specific, simple, and often misunderstood concept is that facts are things that are true and opinions are not things that are true, but rather things that you believe are right, based (hopefully) on the interpretation of some facts. And while most people tend to understand and agree that facts are facts and opinions are not, the trouble starts with that “interpretation” of the facts that underlie our opinions. Interpretation requires context, and context requires more facts, and therefore more interpretation… and around and around it goes.
Therefore, even if an opinion has some true facts living beneath it, those facts might not be a solid enough foundation for that opinion to stand strong. They might only be half a foundation, or the foundation for a totally different kind of living structure. And even if the interpretation of a set of facts leads to a sound opinion, it’s very possible that a different set of equally reliable facts and accompanying interpretations could support a completely disparate opinion.
So, the important thing to acknowledge about our opinions is that they’re perhaps no “better” than other people’s opinions, because our interpretations might be incomplete or even incorrect.
This is why respecting all opinions is so god damn important.
That being said: there is an undeniable ethical measure that underlies every opinion. “We should develop a comprehensive, public, no cost post-secondary education system in the United States” is an opinion that is very far to one side of the ethical spectrum; “We should build a wall between the United States and Mexico to deter undocumented individuals from crossing the border” is an opinion very far to the other.
So this means two things:
1. There is such a thing as a shitty opinion, and
2. There is no such this as a correct opinion.
Because although I believe that we should absolutely not build a wall, there are many facts that could be interpreted to both support and refute the efficacy of this opinion; same goes for the bit about public college in the U.S. In spite of one opinion being far less morally reprehensible than the other, neither belief is more “true,” at least when using the word in the context of “correct” or “factual.”
The trick is gauging the moral weight of an opinion – which is also largely objective – and learning to accept that, with any opinion, there are valid counterarguments. The next trick is understanding the moral weight of your own opinions, and being open to the fact that they may turn out to not be weighty enough. And the final trick is not allowing the weight, or lack of weight, in any one person’s opinion to become the measure of that person’s complete worth, because following that logic would mean I’d never get to enjoy to company of a human who loves asparagus, and let me tell you: there are some cool asparagus lovers out there.