There is a favorite saying I often pull out when someone I'm talking to offers an opinion on a given topic that differs with my own, especially if they're getting heated about the topic. I encourage you to try it, too.
"Well," I sigh, "everyone is entitled to their own incorrect opinion."
Although there's a depth to this statement that, once you really understand it, can help you be much happier and that I'll get to momentarily, I will be honest: the real reason I usually say it is because I am amusing myself. And by amusing myself, I'm reminding myself to stay calm in the face of "opposition." The other person is typically not amused, you should be warned, but if you give it a try you'll see that can make it even funnier. Unless they punch you.
If I'm being extra-giving and I haven't been punched, what I add shortly after the "Everyone is entitled to their own incorrect opinion" statement is that, "My opinion is incorrect in the big picture, too. All opinions are, so we can take this seriously, but not too seriously."
Sometimes they grin and nod their head in agreement, sometimes they tell me "Yeah, Brian, but your opinion is even more incorrect than mine," and oftentimes they just look at me with a blank expression and say what anyone says when they don't understand something but don't want to admit it: "Whatever."
But what I mean by saying that in the most profound sense everyone's opinion is incorrect is this: the human race knows nothing yet.
We don't have any proven answers to any of the biggest questions of all, such as:
- Why do we exist?
- Why does any life at all exist?
- Why does anything at all exist?
- What is and what is not existence?
Many people have responses to these big questions such as "Only God knows" or "Someday science will tell us," but those type of answers are called hope and faith. Hope and faith are powerful things, along with love they are far more powerful than mere proof. But they are not proof.
"Free Speech for Me!"
And so because we have no proven answers to the biggest questions, none of the most foundational facts of our existence at all, all the smaller questions have no underlying basis for a bona fide answer.
As it has been since human beings could communicate, all topics are an ongoing conversation without a final conclusion.
Why are we here? What are we supposed to do while we're here? Where did we come from, and where are we going? What happens if all life is wiped away tomorrow... what was the point of our existence and anyone's and anything's then? Societies have been built around and destroyed by opinions on questions like these, but they've all still been opinions.
This is no excuse for moral relativity, though; on the contrary, it recognizes that everyone is born equal and entitled to their voice, their opinion, which of course happens to be the foundational ideal of American democracy. It also recognizes that, because there is an absence of any proven answers to the really big questions, everyone is entitled to their hope and faith, whatever it may be in, which happens to be another of our democracy's foundational ideals.
But it IS a reason to learn to let go of your opinions when your opinions start becoming toxic to you and those around you. And today a lot of people are poisoning themselves horribly, and therefore also the society around them, with their opinions.
A few questions for you to consider:
1) On topics and issues that really matter to you - perhaps your family finances, the kids' curfew, the practices of drug companies, the war in Iraq, marketing to children, taxes, religion, chemicals on foods, gas prices, immigration - do you find yourself feeling severe dislike or even hatred for those with opposing views? Do you wish they'd just shut up? Move to another country?
2) Do you enjoy a good healthy debate, where your ears and mind are truly open to being changed if the points presented by the "opposition" make sense? Or are you more so out to crush those with opposing viewpoints, silencing them and their stupid opinions because you're right and the world will be a better place when everyone else thinks and does like you do?
3) Do you really believe in the principle of free speech, meaning for all, or just your right to free speech?
4) Did you ever notice how, when you encounter opinions that are different from our own, especially on important issues, it can feel like it's squeezing your heart? Sending your blood pressure higher? Stressing you out?
What to Do When Good Opinions Go Bad
Stress is the number one cause of the most deadly diseases in the Western world, and clinging to toxic opinions that have lost both their respect for your own inner-peace and happiness, and for other people's dignity and right to their own incorrect opinions, is a top source of stress.
Feeling hatred or disdain for anyone, meanwhile, is not freedom. It is a prison. Not a prison for the hated, but for the hater. It chains the hater to their own self-imposed limitations, holding them back from their own potential and happiness.
So the key is to remember that your inner-peace, growth, physical health and overall happiness - and all these qualities for the society you are a part of - are far more important than your or anyone's opinion. And your opinion is the only one you are in control of.
So pay attention to yourself. Learn to recognize when your opinion is turning against you and the world. It is not difficult - your opinion has turned from nurturing to poison when you start feeling frustration, anger, stress or hatred rising up inside your heart for it.
When you feel any of these feelings, it is then that you need to let go of your opinions. Not let go of your faith, I repeat, which is a different, always-positive and far greater thing that should never be confused with mere opinion (though it often is). And not let go of our opinions for good, mind you, but only until your opinions respect you again, which means they also respect your respect for those around you who have their own different and equally incorrect opinions.
Again, you let go by acknowledging that all opinions are in the deepest sense incorrect anyway. Even if you don't' agree with that, you can still let go by acknowledging that your health and happiness, and the world's, are more important than mere opinions anyway.
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