Having opinions: Why we’ve got it wrong

You are not defined by one issue

arguments binaries categories debate opinions right wrong

Regurgitating opinions is a cherished pastime for most denizens of the Internet.

Anyone with a computer and half a brain can churn out their views and proliferate them via social media or, dare I say it, The Tab. But there seems to be a recurring pattern with so many of the opinions splattered across the Internet, and it’s not necessarily a positive one.

I was arguing with my (conservative and Conservative) Dad about the election. I told him what I thought and he said, dismissively, “your views are still evolving, though”.

Patronising tone aside, it occurred to me – why is this a bad thing? Our views should change and evolve. Not just as supposedly idealistic, liberal students, but as humans, as people, as members of a constantly mutating and ever-changing society.

Sorry, no U-turns allowed

If you once believed in something strongly, and told everyone about it, this doesn’t mean you have to believe in it forever. You could have been given new information that changed your mind, or someone could have argued an opposing point well and convinced you, or your personal context and experiences could have altered and with it your perceptions of a particular issue.

Your opinion has changed, progressed, matured – and it’s okay to acknowledge that. Similarly, what you believe now isn’t necessarily what you’ll believe forever. If you plan on changing someone’s opinion, you must acknowledge that your own opinion should be changeable too.

I used to like penguins but now I don’t. Sorry not sorry.

The issue is it’s not just that the idea of changing or reworking our views is shunned, it’s also that we value the polarised views. We value the two sided approach. We feel compulsively drawn to label ourselves and fit our other opinions to suit this label.

Why do we feel the need to stubbornly ally with one side or another? Why do we have such an obsession with idealism over pragmatism? Leaders who have caused the most damage have been those with grand ideologies (*cough* Margaret Thatcher) who haven’t looked at individual circumstances and what those mean.  Their approach favours a narrow set of overarching values and principles at the expense of pragmatism.

It’s okay to be outside of the box

The answer is that we do it because it’s easier. It’s easier to form binaries and categorisations and squeeze people into them even if they don’t belong there. It’s also more interesting – it attracts more attention. It’s because of this that our political system is fundamentally adversary.

The major parties sit physically opposite each other in parliament: the whole system is built around opposition, coming down firmly on an issue one way or another.  Strong opinions make people take notice, but that doesn’t mean they’re right – or that they’re representative.

Neatly divided

It’s so easy to tuck our selves into a particular part of the political or moral spectrum, and stubbornly sit there, adopting every view and opinion that it propagates and stands for. It’s also easy to hold something as a view, invest in it and then adapt the facts to suit this tightly woven and unyielding narrative. I know because I’ve done it – we’ve probably all done it on some level.

Me in a box. It wasn’t particularly comfortable

Equally, it’s easy to think that just because someone holds a particular view on a particular issue, they fit neatly into a box themselves. Simply because someone believes one thing – about the death penalty, abortion or student loans – this doesn’t make them right wing, left wing, anarchist, atheist, fascist or anything other than a person with an opinion.

This house would not necessarily propose or oppose

We’re the generation that are supposed to be breaking down binaries – whether it’s gender, sexuality or anything else. So why does it seem that when it comes to an opinions, you have to be either something, or its exact opposite?

Either you’re right wing or left wing, socially conservative or socially liberal, and your opinions have to align with what these categories are supposed to mean. It makes so little sense.

Winning at non-conformity

I’m not saying we should dilute arguments or pacify debate. Be passionate. Be angry and indignant and argumentative. Persuade and dispute and convince people of what you believe in. But you don’t have to defend that viewpoint forever.

You don’t have to be aggressively against or fervently in favour of anything.  And it certainly doesn’t have to define who you are and everything else you believe in.