You know what opinions are like?

My mind has been wandering a bit today as I consider what to write here.  I was toying with the idea of why we actually do anything.  From the mundane activity of going to jobs we don’t really  like to truly inexplicable things like why did millions of soldiers, sometimes tens of thousands in a single day, continue to march into slaughter during World War One?  Sometimes I really can’t understand why more people don’t say “hey, this is bullshit, I’m not doing this any more.”

The rather depressing answer I came up with is there is no shortage of evil bastards who are willing to seriously fuck you over if you dare to buck the system.  So that was a short and depressing chain of thought.

Then I started thinking about how widely divergent people’s opinions can be on topics that initially seem straightforward, like what is right and wrong.  I’m a big believer in open mindedness and considering the other person’s point of view but a simple fact about opinions that people often gloss over is that either you’re insane or your opinion is right and everyone else’s is wrong.

After all, what sane person would hold an opinion that they considered to be wrong?  This is not the same as the evil practice that seems to underlie so much politics and public discourse, namely, people spouting views they don’t actually believe in a cynical grab for power and influence.  It’s simply human nature; you hold your opinions for a reason and it’s only natural to assume that a contrary opinion is wrong.

It can sometimes be hard to balance this perceived reality with behaving decently to other people (assuming behaving decently to other people is actually important to you).  The best solution I’ve heard for this was in something I read recently written by Robert Sutton as an offshoot of his book “The No Asshole Rule“.  He suggest you argue as if you are right but listen as if you are wrong.  In other words, support your view passionately but actually listen to the opposing view in case you discover something you didn’t know.

That’s as good a guide to life as I’ve seen in a while.  Oh, and in case the title of this post doesn’t make sense to you, it comes from a saying I’ve heard many times in my life.  I particularly like the way my grandfather used to say it as he had his own twist at the end that I’ve never heard other people use:

“Opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one.  And yours stinks.”

 EDIT: As I’ve been considering truth vs. opinion recently I felt compelled to add a link to this comic which I stumbled upon just after writing this post: XKCD on Certainty.

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13 Comments

Filed under General Angriness

13 responses to “You know what opinions are like?

  1. Thanks, I’ve been considering saying “hey, this is bullshit, I’m not doing this any more.” but the mortgage people will take back my house if I do that. But now I’m worried about the other evil gits who’ll get at me too.

    When it comes to opinions, I always figured that people came to different opinions for one of three different reasons. Either they knew stuff you didn’t, they’ve had experiences you haven’t, or they’re smarter than you. All of those reasons can work both ways too, so you could be smarter than them. Anyway, the point is that until you know why your opinions differ you can’t make judgements about the person based on their opinions.

    Now I write that, I have a feeling I’m missing out a reason: they’re more of an arsehole than you are. (Or less, depending)

    Just like arseholes though, you shouldn’t look too closely at someone’s opinion until you know them quiet well.

  2. This is one of the lesser angry things you’ve posted about- but with just as much importance. I think your granddad was a wise man and we could all learn a little something from him.

  3. Rob

    Mr. Angry:

    Well said, as usual. I particularly like your grandfather’s twist on the old saw; first time I’d seen it anywhere. :)

    Part of the problem with opinions is that people confuse beliefs with knowledge: an opinion is something one believes to be true (usually supported by some vague and unreliable source of information); a fact is something one knows to be true (at least based on the best available documented, irrefutable, incontrovertible, concrete and universally agreed upon evidence… which, as history has shown, can still be turned on its head with new discoverys; but that’s why we keep an open mind, right?).

    The belief that an opinion is true is usually founded on good faith (but that’s kind of like good intentions, with which the road to Hell is paved): conclusions are reached from past experiences, the problem being they are often unrelated experiences applied to inappropriate situations.

    Opinions are also often based on “common knowledge” or “conventional wisdom”, but in many cases this is just code for “what’s convenient for me to believe” and the belief is accepted without the benefit of a well reasoned or factually supported argument.

    I’ll have to check out the Robert Sutton book you mention; his suggestion that you “argue as if are right but listen as if you are wrong” pretty much sums up my own way of looking at life. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s always at least one person who’s going to know that one thing more than I do about a subject and learning the piece of the puzzle they hold could be enough to change what I believe.

    Massif:

    You point about needing to know why opinions differ before making a judgement is so true; unfortunately it seems that intransigence is so much easier to adopt than an open mind that very few people bother with dialoguing to find out what those differences stem from and just start from (and end at) the position of “I’m right, therefore you’re wrong”.

    I also like your advice getting to know someone well enough before delving into their nether regions, physically or intellectually. :)

    Of course, all of this is just my opinion on the subject… ;)

  4. Rob

    Damn, that should have been “discoveries”, not “discoverys”.

  5. Maybe instead of pigeonholing there yet. Just my opinion.

    Curious? Check out Christopher Ruddy

  6. Maybe instead of pigeonholing the world into right and wrong opinions made by either sane or insane people…you could think of it as opinion vs. truth. This is to say that there is ALWAYS a fundamental truth to everything. The truth is not dependent upon peoples perspective of it, or even their belief in it. It is what it is. We are all just trying to get a clear view of it and when we think we see more than the other guy, we assume they are wrong. They just don’t understand and can’t get your point because they’re not there yet. Just my opinion.

  7. Wow, I really like what Rob had to say, that was a short, sweet and simple boil down of the differences. It’s always so hard not to argue over opinions because I usually feel so passionate about them. Then again, I feel passionate about everything because…well, as my ex-husband summed up about me — “I always knew you were Mrs. Right… I just didn’t know your first name was Always”. :)

    Which is so NOT true! I’m only right 99% of the time. ha…ha.ha…. I’ve been learning in my old age (gee…36 is so freaking old) that there comes a point where I just have to agree to disagree with someone. It’s just too exhausting trying to convince others to see things my way and hell, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, after all.

    So long as your opinion doesn’t result in you doing something stupid and dangerous to others, (like..oh..I don’t know.. shoot people at Virginia Tech) then what harm does it do for us to all have different opinions.

    My fave saying — “Put 10 people in a room and you’ll get 11 different opinions.”

    Cheers!!

  8. Rob

    Thanks for the compliment, Cinnkitty — it’s not often that anyone thinks what I have to say is “short” (you’d think I’m getting paid by the word, the way I usually run on…)

    One of the (many) things my ex-wife would get on my case about was that she accused me of “never having an opinion” — it pissed her off that I wouldn’t come down on one side or the other of an issue unless I had all the facts and was sure of which was right. Put that down to my engineering background.

    Of course, shes also the type to say “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you!” — there were always two opinions on every subject: hers and the wrong one.

    Ah, well… that was back when I was young and stupid. Now, I’m no longer young… ;) Thirty-six was a while back.

  9. Massif: Killer closing line there.

    Happychick: this is me being philisophical, leading up to being really angry

    Rob: I agree with you re opinions vs truth – the trouble is the hordes of people who think their ill-informed opinion is undeniable fact.

    Shelb: my central point is that there is NO fundamental truth – everything that has been held up as a fundamental truth in history has been shown to be flawed.

    CinnKitty: I agree with you, it’s important to hold to your opinions but it’s nice if you can do so without inflicting violence.

    Rob#2: I wish I was getting paid by the word as well.

  10. “Opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one. And yours stinks.”

    Haha! I love your grandfather! I’m going to cross stitch this and hang it above my bed!

  11. hahahahaha – over your bed has all sorts of connotations.

  12. Cpt.CodPiece

    Opinions are like arseholes, everyones got one, and most of them are full of shit.

  13. Another fine variation.

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