How To Have An Opinion

At the beginning of the summer, I came to a life-changing realization.

“Wait… I’m allowed to have controversial opinions!”

This mainly came up through my study of religions, in which controversy is inevitable. Also inevitable is that controversial figures survive. When someone disagrees with them, the world doesn’t end.


This may seem entirely obvious to some. I remember back in 9th grade when my class was first taught how to write essays. We were told that we must take a stance or assert a point. As my university theater professor told us, “Say something!” I continue to resist this. I don’t think you have to have an immediate opinion on new information. I prefer to withhold judgement for as long as possible, taking time to consider the different sides.

The grass is greener on the other side, but not so when you’re sitting on the fence!

Of course, eventually one should come to a conviction. We should discover truth, not just assimilate perspectives. On some of my university essays I wished I could have written “I don’t know how I feel about this!” But those discoveries should eventually come.

So I am now allowing myself to have opinions that invite controversy. And, it seems, a lot of people my age are also discovering this for the first time. Some discovered it a long time ago (perhaps sooner than they should have) but the opinion-holding newborns have found some consistent ways to broadcast their novice status.

When someone posts an article on facebook in defense of a position, some detractors will tirelessly patrol that link making sure that swift rebuttal comes to any comment with the slightest disagreement. This strikes me as a sign of insecurity. To me, it says that their position is so weak that if the other position gets even a moment to defend itself that it’ll be game over.

I also see lots of exaggeration. It’s not enough to assert that “A” is right and “B” is wrong, then to provide some reasons for the strengths and weaknesses of the positions. “It is always the novice who exaggerates,” as C. S. Lewis said. The rhetoric becomes much more polarized when the novices are around. “A” has to be beyond reproach and “B” has to start a slippery slope into total immorality. The conversation turns into a competition of who can construct the most elaborate straw man.

These are a couple faults. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that last one, albeit in a less strong way than many of my facebook friends or twitter followers. I really don’t understand the mindset of those who can’t allow the other side to speak. I’ve written pieces condemning the Black / All Lives Matter argument and a piece critiquing Pokemon: Go (perhaps harsher than merited) but I’ve never tried to silence or intentionally ignore the other side.

So how do you have an opinion?
Step One: Have your (informed) opinion.
Step Two: Let others have their opinion.
Step Three: Discuss opinions fairly.

I think that’s pretty much the crux of it. We can obviously challenge each other, we most certainly should, but we should do so while really listening to the other perspective. Things like Trump or Clinton, Christianity or Islam, Corporal Punishment or Not – these are not matters of life and death.

Heck, even matters of life and death don’t progress if everyone’s just screaming past each other. A pro-lifer and a pro-choicer aren’t going to learn anything from each other if they’re just angry and don’t listen.

So that’s my opinion on how you should have an opinion. What’s yours?


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