seemed so self-evident to me, that all opinions are not equal in value,
in validity, in worth. I had no idea it was something worth discussing.
And then there it was - THE WALL.
I had virtually a whole
class of college students rigidly against my opinion.
They held onto their opinion, that every opinion
as if to believe anything else was to be some kind of bigoted
But what about the equality of people
of all races, of women and men, I asked, thinking that for sure they
would agree. And they did - but were adamant that it was just a matter
of opinion. So there I stood in front of the class, with black students
agreeing that they too believed, like me, that all races were equal,
but they were at the same time absolutely sure it was just a belief,
an opinion. And women students likewise held that, like me, they believed
in the equality of women and men, but unlike me, they were convinced
it was just an opinion, and all opinions were equal.
But what about slavery, I asked, wasn't
Opinion. Just an opinion. Of course they
were against slavery, but it was just an opinion. I was stunned, especially
when black students adamantly held that.
One or two students sided with me - they
got as little hearing as I did.
I tried logic. If
all opinions were equal, then things would be both true and not true. So women would be both equal
to men, and not equal to men. Slavery would be both right and wrong.
Beating children would be both right and wrong. That was the same as
saying two and two equaled four, and did not equal four. A contradiction.
Forget it. Contradictions
were irrelevant -
or worse. Students looked at me as if I was mad to say that if things
contradicted themselves, they could not both be true. What mattered was
not attacking the sacred cow (and equally, I would hold, unsacred cow)
of THE ABSOLUTE EQUALITY OF ALL OPINONS.
I was stunned, as stunned as if I had
suddenly found myself in a society which looked exactly like mine, but
where people believed parents had the right to kill babies at birth.
Who are we to judge what is right and
wrong, they held. It's all a matter of opinion - and then ANOTHER SACRED
COW: everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Okay, I said (though I am not quite convinced
But, I continued, that does not mean
that the opinions themselves have equal value. So you may be entitled
to hold the opinion that you may beat your newborn to death, or (a more
common opinion) that you may beat your teenage daughter to death if she
is seen with a boy, but that opinion leads to action - and the opinion
is not as valid as the opinion (based on inherent human rights to self
determination) that as we grow up, we increasingly have the right to
make our own life choices, as long as these do not harm others.
Here a few of my students went into shock.
You could hold any opinion you wanted. After all, all opinions were equal.
Plus, more shock, what was I saying?
That opinions connected with action?? That made no sense to them. Opinions
were just opinions. It was just something you believed and (going back
to a favorite mantra) ALL OPINONS WERE EQUAL.
How could opinions
be separated from action, I countered. Of course they connected with
action. Do you think
Hitler had a high opinion of Jews, and yet set up concentration camps
to kill them? Or do you think (as the record shows) that he had a very
negative opinion of them, and that this opinion came long before the
concentration camps. In other words, the opinions fueled his behavior.
Over and over, I said, you can see how
opinions lead to action. The people who acted for equal rights of people
of all races BELIEVED in the equality of people of all races. Likewise
people who acted for women's rights, the rights of gays and lesbians,
children's rights, animal rights.
Aha, they went en masse. See, it's just
a matter of belief.
Is it, I asked. Can we not show that
people of different races have equal value, that women and men, people
with differing sexual orientations, children and adults, have equal right
to life and to develop their capacities?
No. Absolutely not. It was just a matter
of opinion. And therefore (over and over again), while they might share
my opinion that men and women were equal, they were absolutely totally
against my opinion that my opinion was not just a matter of opinion.
"I know someone racist," went one student.
"And he never says anything bad to anyone of a race he doesn't like.
That shows that not all opinions lead to action."
It took me from one class to the next
to think of the answer. "No, it doesn't mean that opinions do
not lead to action. The person who is racist but does not say nasty things
to members of those races most likely has the opinion that it isn't nice
to do so, or the opinion that he risks getting beaten up if he says anything.
So once again, you will find an opinion relating to his actions. You
need to look at the many opinions a person holds. Plus, I haven't said
there is always a direct line between opinion and action - just that
our opinions, including opinions we may not even be aware of, have an
impact on our behavior."
But how to get them to actually engage
in thinking about the impact of opinions?
I could not even
get them to see that my opinion (that all opinions are not equal) was
as good as theirs (that all opinions are equal). But it had to be,
I said. Because if all opinions are equal, then the opinion that all
opinions are not equal is just as good as the opinion that all opinions
are equal (yet
another bit of evidence that their opinion made no sense, that their
opinion held that two things were equally true, when only one could
What is going on here, I ask.
ONE. To some extent
I know. For
a long time, many people held damaging opinions not backed the evidence -
on racial inequality, on the right of people to enslave other people,
on the right of one sex to dominate over another, on the right of people
to declare another religion wrong, on the right of people to take land
away from other people. So Christians were sure that their
religion was the right one, etc.
Good that we stop holding those opinions.
Easy to go to the
other extreme - once
again not backed by evidence - that no opinion is better than another.
people hear, "Not all opinions are equal" to mean "Your opinions are
wrong and mine are right. Plus, for all things there is only one right
far off base. It just means we both need to be able to back our opinions,
see which makes more sense, if one or the other opinions might need
more research (or to be ditched), to recognize difficult areas, etc.
requires people to think, and think logically . It puts a
few easy responses off limits: "Well, that's my opinion, and that's
all there is to it." "Everyone has a right to their opinion." "I
have as much right to my opinion as you have to yours, so there too."
Thinking - not something a lot of people like
to do. Holding an opinion is easy. Voicing it is easy too,
for many people - even mouthing off loudly and repeatedly. Thinking
things through - that's much harder. It requires ... thought, thinking,
research, analysis. Eeks, not so easy.
requires people to discuss with each other, listen to each
other, evaluate what they have said and thought, and what the other
has said and thought. Much harder than each person
to have an opinion in a warm cozy cocoon, where no one has a right
to challenge it. "It's
my opinion. Don't you dare touch it. It's mine, and that's all there
is to it. And of course I wouldn't dream of touching your opinion either.
After all, it's yours, all yours, sacred."
FIVE. It requires people
to refine their thinking. Maybe some aspects of an opinion make
sense, and others don't. Maybe some need further thought, revision.
SIX. It requires
people to break other current taboos - like judge other cultures.
This is a huge taboo. Even to dare to think that anyone could possibly
have the right to judge another culture is off limits. Of course we
have the right to judge, I go. Why ever not? And likewise people from
other cultures have the right to judge ours. My parents,
when they came to Canada, saw the huge wage gap between women and men,
the lack of child care, the lack of medicare, and they very rightly
judged - along with quite a few native born Canadians. Why should they
have had any less right to judge?
The benefits of doing the thinking
are huge - it's an exercise program for the brain, the same as a bit
of a workout for a couch potato. But we all know that many
couch potatoes are very resistant to doing any exercise. The same goes
for people with mental barriers (like the belief that all opinions
are equal) against thinking. Our society has so many people with mental
rigidity - for instance, "political correctness." Mental
rigidity means much cannot be seen recognized, explored. One is supposed
(not-see) the world through the lens of unchallenged assumptions/opinions.
Many students absolutely can not hear
what I am saying and what I have written. "So you're saying that we have
to count how many people believe something, and you're saying that's
the right opinion."
"Have you read what I wrote?"
"Yes, I read it all."
"So what do I say?"
A blank. A total blank. When I ask
for the answer, it finally comes from a student not educated in Canada
- and in this case, not subjected to years of being told all opinions
are equal. He answers easily, "Evidence."
"Does that make sense to you?"
"Yes, sure. Of course."
A Canadian student appears close to tears.
"But who am I to judge?"
"You want me to judge for you?" I
She shakes her head. She just does not
want judgment. The suggestion that she could possibly
have to judge opinions makes her look as if someone has beaten her.
student has a tight closed look on her face, "Whatever you say."
In other words, my words will bounce off her. She knows best. All opinions
I think, Wow. Amazing. (And how frustrating.)
I cannot imagine being so closed to taking in info. So this is what Galileo
and Copernicus were up against, I think, when they tried to get others
to see - as all the evidence suggested - that the earth rotated around
the sun, not the other way around.
One student, silent during the class,
stays and talks to me afterwards. She is in police tech. My opinion on
opinions makes sense to her. Looking for evidence - she's lknows that's
An aside. I have just
thought of what is often called voter apathy. How much
is apathy? If you vote, you take responsibility for your decision. Your
vote may have consequences - Bush in the White House., for instance.
You may also make a decision you later deeply regret. It's easier to
mouth off and do nothing - very often, to stay with the opinion that
you can't make a difference.
I also think of an opinion so many
of my students hold, as vehemently as they hold the opinion that all
opinions are equal - the opinion that all politicians are crooks. (But
if all opinions are equal, then that opinion has no more weight than
the opinion that all politicians are divinely inspired.) These students
tend to hold their opinion with utter rigid conviction - without checking
out the range of behaviors of different politicians. And once again,
their opinion means they have no responsibility to do anything (as all
politicians are crooks and any effort is futile).
In a way, there
has been a lack of change regarding opinions. Many unfounded opinions
used to be widely held (and thinking about them was off limits). Now
the equally unfounded opinion that all opinions are equal is widely
by the most traditional students, who often are adamant about opinions
founded on belief, not on evidence - especially relating to gays and
lesbians, male-female equality, sex outside marriage).
To ask for evidence
asks a lot more of people. As I've noted, it asks them to
think, and to think logically. It asks them to go out and back their
opinion, to found it on as much information as possible. It asks them
to figure out which source is reliable and can be used as evidence,
and to what extent. A quick rote answer is not enough.
A question I am
left with is: what has happened in the local education system (Montreal, Quebec, Canada - but
it is highly likely that the phenomenon is more widespread than that)
that students come out of high school with the opinion that all opinions
are equal - and at the same time they hold many opinions where they are
convinced they are right (abortion is a woman's right or it is not; the
government is wrong or right is all kinds of ways, especially here in
Quebec around language; gay marriage is right or wrong).
What are you saying, I want to ask.
ONE, how can you believe any
of your opinions are right or wrong, if the opposite opinion is equally
right or wrong?
TWO, if all opinions are equal,
it follows that the opinion that all opinions are not equal is just
as good as the opinion that all opinions are equal. Yes equals no.
THREE, if all opinions
are equal, then why should not all behaviors be equal in value? Why
should any behavior be truly worse than another? Isn't it just a matter
of opinion that murder, say, is less good than playing cards?
FOUR, if all opinions
are equal, why are people encouraged to get a second opinion when faced
with a major illness (or even major car trouble). It only
makes sense to go for more than one opinion if some opinions are better
(have a better chance, if followed, of leading to health or to a lower
car repair bill) than others.
FIVE, if all opinions
are equal, why are we bothering with research, with getting
more facts, finding better ways of doing things (including more effective
ways of reaching students). In fact, I haven't wanted to stop with
the opinion that some opinions are better than others. I also think
that by looking further at the question, maybe I will come to a better
way of reaching more students. In other words, it won't be just an
unresearched unbacked opinion that this is a more effective way. It
will be (as all opinions should be) as backed as possible backed by
thought, experience, research, evidence.
Doing good research, getting evidence
- necessary to solve crime. If there are two opinions - he did it; he
didn't do it - it would be absurd to say, well it's a matter of opinion,
and all opinions are equal, and everyone has a right to their opinion.
If two detectives talked that way, it would sound like a comedy skit.
(As aside, if one has an unbacked opinion
- say, a quick first impression - the best thing is to acknowledge this.)
Back to, not stopping with an opinion,
going on to getting as much evidence as possible. With teaching as well,
by seeing what happens in class, by experimenting, I've found some approaches
work better than others - because it has been far more than once that
I have met the opinion that all opinions are equal. In fact, it's something
I think all parents and teachers should look at and explore, to break
the spell of this rigid (and inaccurate) opinion.
One thing that I am sure plays into students
being sure that all opinions are equal is another belief held by the
vast majority of them, that they should not be judgmental - as if making
good, well-founded judgments were not an important human activity.
It used to be said that someone had "a
good head on their shoulders," meaning that they had "good
judgment." Now judging is judged (in another of those bizarre standards
- where the only evil seems to be judging) as a major vice.
But you are being judgmental,
I say to my students. You are judging. Just like the people who hold
that all opinions are equal are being opinionated - you are once more
holding that you are right and everyone else (no matter what the evidence)
As for what I've found works best for
me, on the one hand, nothing has worked all the time. On the other hand,
some things have at least sometimes worked: Breaking
the Spell of Stupid (making no sense) Opinions.
clear thinking trainer,
always looking with ideas cooking,
copyright © Elsa Schieder 2006-2009 - all rights reeserved
here for ideas on Breaking the Spell
of Stupid (making no sense) Opinions.
here for another "favorite" logic fallacy,
the opinion that we are all where we are meant to be .
here for The Rage of the Righteous,
another rigid stance not backed by evidence, but ardently held as utter\ truth .
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Stupid Opinion One: All opinions are equal.
Believed by many ardently, rigidly.
But it means racism is as good
The Idea Emporium -
facts, logic, critical thinking, good judgment.
The Idea Emporium - logical inquiry vs stupid opinion, and more
One of my lifelong concerns has been trying
to make sense of reality. What is happening?
Why is this happening? And with that I come to ideas - ideas about reality,
ideas that need
to be checked against reality,
not just believed in like the tooth
fairy is accepted by a child.
But how does one check them? What qualifies
as proof, as evidence?
And why, so often, is evidence of no interest
to people? We have masses of evidence of how good
many people are at
denying evidence when it goes against what they believe. Millions have
and continue to denythe equality of women and men, of Jews
and nonJews, of atheists and Muslims,
gays and heterosexuals. People
are incredible experts at denying reality - what is seen, experienced.
Of course we need to interpret reality - we do not know it "pure"
but through our limited senses,
our limited memory, our limited ability
to perceive andmake sense of the amazing array of information
does gets perceived.
Still, it boggles the even slightly rational
mind - how can so many people be so utterly blind to, let's say,
about nutrition? It amazed me to find out, when I was growing up, that
there was evidence
for the health benefits of whole grains over refined
products - because masses of people stuck with white flour,
white sugar. How could they be so closed to evidence?
had a wall against the evidence.Stupid opinions are some of the things
that I find hard to take - especially those often rigidly held by those in places
where one is supposedly able to think freely. So why do so many people, about so many things,
evidently not think at all,hold to logical fallicies - including examples of logical fallacies such as,
the only opinion that is not okayis the opinion that all opinions are not equal.
Instead of creative critical thinking, truth-driven thinking and logical inquiry,
one comes up again rigidly held misguided concepts.
One has come up against current taboos: thou must not judge,
who am I to judge, who are we to say other people's values are not as good as ours,
all religions are the same, even if the evidence shows that they have very different beliefs and values.
And the walls come tumbling down - at some point they do. Galileo and Copernicus eventually prevail
over those who hold that the earth is the center of the universe.
We will see when the current walls protecting current logic fallacies crumble to dust,
leaving everyone astounded that anyone could ever have believed such a stupid opinion.
clear thinking trainer,
always looking with ideas cooking,
December 9, 2007
copyright © Elsa Schieder 2006, 2011
publishing house - FlufferDuff Impressions 2006, 2011
Questions - on
rage, hatred, narcissism, empathy, caring, peace.
Good thinking and analysis. Logic plus emotion.
The Idea Emporium - facts, ideas, conclusions.
Plus stupid opinions exposed.
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