Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Opinions on Opinions.

Published: 01 Jul 2012

A lot of people have told me if 10 experts are in a room, you’ll get 10 different opinions. Usually to counter me citing a respected expert in a field. They say this like it’s a bad thing. It’s not. Everybody needs opinions, especially experts.

I’ve been thinking lately about my opinions. Specifically, my opinion about opinions. It comes down to a small list:

  1. Have an opinion or stay quiet.
  2. Opinions must be backed by research and not bias.
  3. Defend your opinion or stay quiet.
  4. Nobody knows what they’re doing exactly, do your best.
  5. Ignorance is inexcusable.

The problem with opinions.

Opinions are never completely right. Very few things in life have a proper, correct answer. I’m not really sure 2+2 is 4, but it’s close enough for me. I don’t even really believe in right or wrong. I only believe in consequences.

I love the vague nature of the world, it means it is chaotic and needs attention and curation. When people have opinions on the way things in the world should be, the world changes. Hopefully for the better. Opinions curate the world in the way dedicated, thoughtful and motivated individuals feel it is best.

The only problem with opinions is when they aren’t based in research. It’s not about facts, it’s about research. We spend our lives learning facts, but facts are always interpreted differently. We end up with opinions formed from whatever limited facts we’ve been exposed to that fit inside our perception of the world.

When an opinion isn’t sourced from research and knowledge, it’s created from a bias. Whether the bias is from someone admired or religious beliefs, these opinions are harmful. They’re naive and indefensible. You can’t argue for or against when the foundation is no more deep than “because that person over there said so.”

I’ve tried to figure out how to determine the foundation for opinions. The best I can figure this is to see how someone reacts to two very general questions. One is easy and generally safe, the other dangerous but more revealing.

The first, to ask them to support or verify their opinion. To say it out loud, clearly. Simply asking them what their opinion is. It’s very direct, but it works.

The second way is to ask them about any popular contrarian position. Unfortunately asking about contrarian positions paints you as you support the opposing view. Caution must be exercised. I try to always go with the first option.

If emotion enters and vague answers are given, bias is likely the cause for their opinion. Better move on.

Opinions, The Good Parts

The best part of opinions is defending them. I thoroughly love it when someone asks, or challenges, my opinion on something. As long as they’re doing it with an open mind and armed with research, I will be having a good time. I hope they do, too.

I debate passionately, because in all of the opinions I’m willing to argue I’ve invested myself in. I’ve spent many hours researching and thinking about it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be talking about it.

This research and enlightenment is important. It makes me a better person. Even if someone comes along and dislodges my opinion and shows me a new truth, my mental investment is not lost. I carry knowledge to the new opinion.

The cost of learning to hold a well-reasoned opinion is applied in full to new found truths. There is no way to lose when you learn.

You can win when you keep quiet

An important part of opinions is something I fail at frequently. It’s so simple but it seems to go against my nature. I’m not alone, but that doesn’t make it excusable.

Staying quiet, mentally and verbally, when it’s appropriate.

If I haven’t put in sufficient research, don’t just not voice an opinion, do not have an opinion. I know earlier I said I argued my opinions, but I do at least only argue opinions I feel confident and comfortable arguing for.

However, I still feel the opinions formed by nothing more than bias creep into my mind from time to time. Someone I respect tells me about something that is the truth and I believe it. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.

There is a side-effect to this. Some people may think you’re a cynic or overly skeptical. That may be, but I think it’s more valuable to verify information and not be fooled because someone happens to be right more often than not. I’m disappointed when someone listens to me without learning for themselves.