We live in an opinionated world. Or maybe I should say, in my opinion, we live in an opinionated world.
Opinions impact our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. I thought we might benefit from taking a short journey into the nature of opinions, both our own and those of others, how we create them and our abilities to better assess those that others postulate. An image that I thought might make this process clearer is to imagine the process of creating and serving “Opinion Soup.”
Let’s consider and differentiate among some important ingredients that create a person’s opinion soup:
- Facts: those things that have been proven and are the results of an investigation in which things remain the same each time they are examined. Here is an interesting quote, the source unknown: “Science is not truth. Science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you. It learned more.”. Consider where we get our facts, how we verify them, are they relevant, evidence-based, a balanced mixture, who did the research and what were the researchers’ biases? Check out the book Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt PhD, in which she provides research indicating everyone, including researchers, are biased. Are more facts needed to create balance? Something to ponder: do irrefutable facts exist?Truths: how are they different from facts? Maybe first cousins? Are some truths treated as facts? Notice when people say, “The truth of the matter is…” Whose truth is it anyway? What is true for one person may not be true for another.
- Perceptions: what we sense is true, how our mind is making sense, organizing and prioritizing aspects of a situation, a person’s behaviors, the ways something is operating.
- Assumptions: what we believe is true, what others must know, what is reasonable to expect
- Perspectives: how we are looking at something, what past experiences and beliefs are contributing to how we see something, what factors and facts we are including and what we might be missing.
- Loyalties: what are those invisible pulls to embrace, honor and perpetuate certain beliefs that are held by those in our inner relational circles, most often our families but also other groups we are a part of: faith-based, political, cultural communities. The pull to remain loyal can sometimes prevent us from being objective when trying to discover facts and truths.
- The voices around us: the volume, insistence, persuasiveness of others, how the attitudes and beliefs strongly projected impact our opinions
- Motives: things like the need for the approval of certain others, fear factors – will I be rejected, kicked off the island, lose my status?
- Conclusions that result in opinions that lead to decisions: the outcomes of the process one has gone through that ends with a decision
- Factors that persuade us: the possible benefits of holding certain opinions (relational, financial, ego-building, something that will be heart-warming)
- Degrees of rigidity: if, how and when might opinions be altered (“Don’t give me any more facts: my mind is made up”), absolute language (“The ONLY way to see this is…” “There are no other choices,” “I am/this is …the best, the biggest, the way you must see this.”)
- How malleable your mind is, or how able it is to be influenced that can lead to modifications or reversals of opinions.
- Where do values come in? Moral absolutes? Those beliefs that preserve what you hold dear
- Is there such a thing as being too open to exploring one’s own opinions in ways that can paralyze you? (I think of the 1983 movie Zelig (video trailer below) described as “an American mockumentary film in which Woody Allen plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him.”)
I believe there is no one universal, perfect Opinion Soup recipe. Some are tastier than others, some too spicy, some too bland, some over-cooked, some under-cooked and some that should simply be thrown out because they are actually harmful and even poisonous. We want and often need variety to match the meal and even the time of day or time of year.
Some recommendations: notice the ingredients that go into the Opinion Soups you concoct. How balanced are they? Are you too heavy-handed with something? Need a bit more of something else? Are they family recipes passed down for generations that make them special and worth preserving or is it time to make some changes because new information has come along? How long should your let your Opinion Soup simmer? Are we taste-testing along the way to see if some adjustments need to be made or are we interrupting the process by over-thinking it, making too many adjustments, and not letting time do its work? Are we willing to swap recipes and learn from what others have concocted?
We use the facts we gather or even those imposed on us to come to conclusions which are our opinions. These opinions guide our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. They often can determine who likes us, approves of us, enjoys discussions with us and the reverse: who we like, approve of, enjoy having discussions and even respectful arguments with.
An important recommendation is to differentiate between facts and opinions. Notice when someone is sharing an opinion but stating it as a fact. Sometimes very loudly. And in today’s world we are bombarded with opinions often forcibly imposed on us from the media, or even from family, friends and colleagues or those in authority in our lives. In that case you can treat an opinion for what it really is: what someone believes is true but might not necessarily be factual.
Just some food for thought, some ideas to consider and some you may want to digest. I think (IMHO) that being clearer about the nature of opinions gives me the freedom to decide what I am going to believe and do, knowing I have the power to pause and examine opinions. Then I am more likely to be a critical thinker and better consumer of what the world is serving up.
Invitation for Reflection
- Does the information and ideas in this blog provide you with some ways to better understand the nature of opinions and what makes up anyone’s Opinion Soup?
- How does this influence you? Empower you? How can you use this to enhance your thoughts, beliefs and actions?
- How does this help you better understand the world we live in and why some people behave as they do?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute