Friday, May 18, 2007

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."

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