How dare you question my opinions!

“Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.” This little gem is probably the most obvious defense people use when they have a devout yet untenable opinion. It’s just like the ever popular “everybody has a right to free speech” thing. No shit, Captain America. This whole time I was under the impression that it was illegal for people to say something with which I disagree. Of course people can think what they want; that doesn’t mean that what they think is right. You see, the painful, beautiful truth is that some opinions are way better than others, and I am merely doing my patriotic duty to question shallow, unfounded opinions. It’s simple, really. You see, all opinions are founded on reasons (I think this because…). Now this reason can be a superstition or personal interest, or perhaps it is logic, experience,  analytical critique, or the best interest of the country or the world. The reasons for people’s opinions are often hidden, often times from the opinion-haver himself. Sometimes they’re hidden intentionally because they know their reasons aren’t very respectable, and sometimes this lack of awareness is accidental. However, often times people’s reasons are hidden simply because they have never been fine-tuned; nobody has asked them to confront their own reasoning.

Now let me ask you this: how do you like it when people are obviously influenced by superstition, self-interest, or a religion with which you don’t affiliate? Do you think to yourself, “Well, they are entitled to their opinion,” or do you say “that’s dumb.” Can you think of any bad situations (slavery, The Holocaust, The Trail of Tears, for example) which have resulted from an adamant acceptance in unfounded, widely held opinions? So I don’t think it’s necessarily advantageous for us as individuals or for any level of society to allow people to  blindly cling to lofty opinions. Would you rather have a population that bases opinions on thoughtfulness, reality, and self-examination, or based on what they hear from people and media without really ever criticizing it?

“I never learned anything while I was talking”–Larry King

Hmmm…so how does one go about examining and encourage others to examine opinions we hold? Dialogue. Yes, regular conversation. Through the act of breaking down our own thought processes and requiring others to do the same, we are able to find the core reasons for people’s opinions; we are able to bring forth previously unattended faulty rationale and inadequate assumptions. Now, this idea of dialogue has become quite construed; it isn’t simply the process of shouting your well-rehearsed rhetoric at somebody then waiting for them to quit talking so you can call them dumb. It requires one to actually listen to, process, and evaluate what the other person is saying. If their opinion lacks any sort of logic or valuable reasoning (it must if you think he’s an idiot), point it out to him. Likewise, if your opinion is unfounded, listen to him when he tells you that your journey from evidence A, B, and C to your final conclusion is in some way flawed.

Of course, this isn’t everybody’s idea of a great time. My conservative Facebook friends are dropping like flies because they can’t stand being confronted with different opinions. Instead of pointing out my obvious lack of intelligence or sound reason, they call me names, insult the things that make me different from them (huge deuche bag, liberal, fuckface fake is the latest and greatest), then quit exposing themselves to difference (Perkins, J. Facebook). Why? Well, dear friends, because many many people are afraid of being wrong.

“It is doubt that shows we are still thinking” —Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a former contributor and advocate of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). After the implementation of the program, Ms. Ravitch was exposed to test scores, graduation rates, and teacher evaluations representing the outcomes of the implementation of the Act. Quickly, the evidence returning from the research continually suggested that the program was not working; it wasn’t making students more likely to graduate, it wasn’t improving their scores, and it wasn’t making teachers more accountable. As much as it would ruin her career, Ms. Ravitch had to recant all the assumptions she had previously made regarding the expected success of the program. In her book, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, Ms. Ravitch necessarily spends the first chapter explaining to her audience why she changed her mind as well as shared experiences she faced after she began speaking out against the program she had once held in such high esteem. It surely was not easy for her to admit to herself that she was wrong, but I can’t imagine publicly going against something I had dedicated my life to and openly praised and supported.

Diane had two choices when she started seeing evidence that the NCLB Act was failing to reach the expectations it had promised: she could have gone on defending the Act she herself helped shape so that she continued to look successful, or she could speak out against it, risking her professional relationship with the White House and many, many fellow academics and politicians who had influenced the Act. Luckily, she chose the brave thing: she chose to admit that she was wrong. Oh no!

“I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it. ” —Garrison Keillor

Now we can’t blame her for thinking that the NCLB Act was a good idea. In theory, it looked pretty amazing. Every kid will be able to read? Awesome! That’s the thing…we all always think we’re right when we have an opinion. Why on earth would a person hold and fight for an opinion they believe to be wrong? Well, self-interest, for sure. Why else would early Americans  have such a hard time accepting that slavery was wrong? It was super-duper convenient for them to believe it was right. Although it makes me “think everyone cares so much as if [I’m] so intellectually superior to everyone else because [I] go to ou, ” everybody in the whole world thinks they’re right when they think or say something (Perkins, J. Facebook). Have you ever thought something you believed wasn’t true? Obviously, with all the infinite, always contradicting opinions in this world, somebody (if not everybody) is not right. So which would you prefer: go on thinking that you’re right when you realize that you’re  not, or doing what you can to find an opinion closest to the truth, even if that means saying “ohhhh i was very wrong”?

Plenty of people prefer the former. These would be the people who get angry at different opinions but never actually use any form of legitimate argument to prove the other person’s argument is faulty. These would be the name-callers, smart asses, generalizers, and subject changers that hinder any meaningful dialogue. Even if they are capable of analyzing their own reasoning, they are way too afraid of admitting ignorance to actually engage in an intelligent, thought-driven conversation.

It isn’t until after the grueling, painful process of evaluating my assumptions and thought processes and deeming them inadequate that I have ever learned anything significant. When I read a book, I analyze everything–the author’s intentions, the author’s circumstances and history which contribute to those circumstances, what he or she has to gain from the argument he or she is making, and the tools the author uses to convey what it is they want their reader to believe. Although this obviously makes me think I know everything, I implement this process in every aspect of my life (including self-reflection). My hope for my future students, myself, and the population at large is that our opinions are carefully analyzed , based on the closest thing to reality we can comprehend, and stem from general intelligence rather than self-interest. Unless you are willing to put your own opinions and beliefs up to the microscope, you are not going to be able to grow as a person. If you hold on to lackluster beliefs because you want to convince yourself you’re right, you’re never actually going to find any truth.

Love you, bye!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rockomnibus
    Sep 26, 2011 @ 00:17:34

    How true, Andrea. The dialogue you speak of is sorely missing in much of today’s discourse. And we don’t get many good examples in the media, because the media as constructed exists to be self-serving.

    I fully believe, as you alluded to, that the way we expand our thinking is to have it challenged. Only then can we see it from other perspectives, which then broadens our own. Anyone not confident enough to put their ideas on the line also doesn’t have much confidence in those ideas, and is less interested in knowing the truth than being comfortable in their own opinion. We should always be willing to be critiqued by fair-minded individuals who are likewise willing.

    And the most important thing initially isn’t to be right, to pick a stance and then staunchly defend it no matter what. Rather, we should be open to other explanations. In many cases, I’d imagine that there’s some truth from different sides, and often that can be more than two sides. And other times, both people arguing on seemingly competing ends could be wrong simultaneously. We have this mistaken notion that there has to be a winner and a loser. We shouldn’t assume that anyone wins by default, though. And we shouldn’t assume that only one view can “win”, or that to win is really a process in discovery anyway.

    People really need to take a step back and listen to what else is being said, and consider other interpretations before rushing to their own conclusions. Quick conclusions are less painful but also much less rewarding.

    We can take less stock in our own egos and admit where we’ve been misguided and when we have changed our minds. There’s a curious notion that changing one’s mind is necessarily a weakness, but to me many times it shows more thoughtfulness.

    I really appreciate your analytical bent, in how you logically approach a subject, how you notice nuances that many people take for granted, such as the distinction between being able to express an opinion vs. the veracity of said opinion. I’m enjoying your topics so far.


    • Andrea
      Sep 26, 2011 @ 03:24:45

      Thanks! glad you appreciate my incessantly analytical perspective! I also appreciate your addition to the conversation 🙂 keeps things interesting


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