It has been said that opinions are like wrinkles: everyone has them, and the older we get the more we have. We give them a great deal of power. Some of us are practically ruled by our opinions, and the opinions of others impact our lives daily in myriad ways: politics, individual human rights — even what we (or our significant others) believe we should be wearing.
When we really think about it, we can see that “our” opinions often aren’t really ours.The majority of the time they are based on the opinions of others that we glean from conversations, the news and infotainment media (usually those that tell us the things we are comfortable hearing), our clergy, friends and social sites. Seldom do we bother to conduct unbiased research, drawing from sources on both sides of a question so that we can form original opinions of our own. In fact, most of the things we “believe” or “feel” are things that someone else wanted us to believe and feel. Rarely can we honestly say that our positions on issues are solely our own.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a complicated world out there, and we can no longer depend on our direct experience to shape our picture of it. Where we fail in our thinking is in allowing ourselves to think that our opinions reflect reality and thus should automatically be given preference over those of others. Why? Because no two people perceive reality in the same way.
How could they? Now well into my eighth decade, my “reality” is shaped by my interpretation of events, the opinions of others, personal experience, feelings, fears and the disappointments and accomplishments of a long life. Given the very human habit of taking credit for the things that go right and assigning to others the blame for those that don’t, combined with the tendency to forget or distort the facts surrounding both (euphoric recall), we are predisposed to a profoundly skewed vision of our world. On the other hand, those of us who were trained early on by our caregivers to accept the blame for whatever went wrong have realities just as divorced from “truth” as the rest of us.
To return to the main point, we all have reason to question our opinions because it is likely that they are based, at least in part, on inaccurate perceptions of the world around us. At best that stems from our own humanity; at worst, it comes from manipulation by others for their own purposes.
Did we get our information from biased sources? Was it intended to manipulate us in some way? (Think of advertising, statements by politicians, televangelists and the pronouncements of other snake oil salesmen as prominent examples.) Did we think the matter through while trying to be impartial? Do our answers always make us comfortable? (That’s a sure sign that we’re cheating on reality.)
Are we looking only at the ideas and beliefs that we already find acceptable? Are we trying to be impartial, or are we allowing our personal bias and fears to get in the way of self-honesty?
- John F Kennedy is credited with having said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” That’s true of us all to one degree or another but if we are concerned with the pursuit of truth to inform our lives, do we not owe it to ourselves to search for it as honestly as we can? We start by recognizing and questioning our opinions — for they can never truly reflect reality, but we can honestly try to discern it as nearly as possible.
[If you don’t see how this applies to addiction and recovery, you haven’t been discerning carefully. ;-) ]