Your opinion probably doesn't matter

You probably don’t deserve an opinion. You can probably have a theory and you can definitely have questions, but you most likely haven’t deserved an opinion yet. Opinions are earned and only after you have demonstrated an expertise or a track record. You think you know how to fix the economy? You are probably talking out of your ass. You think you know how to put the presentation together better than your boss? She’s been doing this for 20 years. Why don’t you listen and learn first?  You probably haven’t earned your opinion yet.

Opinions are products of ego

But, we still feel the need to have an opinion. They are a way we make our presence felt among others. Let’s look at a scenario:

Wendy is talking with her friends about the issue that everyone is talking about. Suddenly there is a moment where she can give her opinion! Her friends have no idea why they are wrong and she is about to bring light into the world. She proudly and assertively speaks up on her opinion of said issue. Her friends listen to the wisdom she shares and change their minds right then and there. Wendy proudly walks away knowing that she has enlightened her friends.

Has this ever happened to you? Unless the topic is meditation and you are Buddha, then probably not. Are our opinions anything other than a representation of our ego? The world will go on if you don’t have an opinion. Let’s break this down carefully.

Why do we give opinions?

They are the ways that we express our thoughts or beliefs on certain subject matters.

Okay, so why do we express our thoughts or beliefs?

It is the only way people will know what we think and believe.

Okay, so why do people need to know what you think and believe?

At this point, most opinion logic falls apart. If you are asked for an opinion, then you have probably deserved it in some way or another. So, there is a very good reason to share with people what you think and believe, because, well, they want to know! If you are an expert in your field that has spent years learning and training, then you probably deserve to share your opinion to anyone through whatever medium (although if you do this enough people will begin avoiding you). But, in 90% of cases you have neither been asked or have subject-matter expertise. So, why again do you need to share what you think and believe?

We share because we have an urge to. Put in marketing terminology: we are all tiny little brand names trying to position ourselves among the millions and billions of others. When I share an opinion I hope that I am validated through it. Egos tend to need to be fed, and the best food is a bunch of people telling you how great you are. Our opinions are just another way to feed our ego.

Would you rather have ego or confidence? Once you realize the feeding-nature of ego, it becomes less important in your life. Ego is self-anointed, confidence is earned. Ego needs constant inputs to feed it, confidence goes on regardless of what is happening around you. Even little children can talk and give opinions. It is so easy to talk and feed your ego. But, deliberate silence is something only a confident person can accomplish.

The ignorance of opinion and the spectrum of certainty

Opinions are inherently ignorant. By definition, an opinion is not testable and not open to be countered in any productive way. When you form an opinion completely, neuroscience shows us that challenging those opinions is as difficult as changing one’s entire identity. When lab participants with opinions are asked about political, religious, or even factual statements the neurons in the part of the brain that deals with identity and personal emotion lights up. When we form an opinion, it no longer becomes a testable or evolving thought. Instead, it literally (at least according to our brain) becomes part of our emotional identity. To change our opinion would be to change who we identify as a person.

When you entrench yourself like this, any personal or intellectual growth becomes nearly impossible. Ideally, opinions should be tested and constantly open to change. We have another term for this: theory. Instead of holding opinions, we can hold theories. Instead of thinking you are right, we can put our thoughts on a spectrum of certainty. If on a scale from 1 to 100, then 100 would be reserved for the undeniable truths, such as 1+1=2 and if I jump in the water I will get wet. As we develop theories, they can move closer or further away from certainty. In science, physical theories and mathematics are some of the closet we can get toward certainty, while theories like evolution are somewhere in the still developing stage, and economic theories are almost impossible to be anywhere near certain of. Develop a theory-based belief system and constantly think of your spectrum of certainty.

When you’ve deserved your opinion

The best alternative to undeserved opinion is theory, or, even better, questions. But, what if you have deserved your opinion? If this is your life’s work or if someone asks you for it, then you certainly have deserved it. But, your now-deserved opinion comes with responsibility. It is no less dangerous for you to have an opinion or to move away from the spectrum of certainty, because logically nothing is really certain. When someone asks for your opinion you have a responsibility to present it fairly and so it is clear that it is not absolute truth. Further, if someone asks you your opinion on something you have no right talking about, then you have a responsibility to first realize this and mention upfront that you have no idea what you are talking about. Only then do you give out your developing theory.

This is a great way to build trust as well. When you constantly check yourself and make sure others are presented fair information, your friends and acquaintances will trust you more. They will return to ask you what you think, because your insights are actually valuable and not awash with dogma or so firmly-held so as not to be trusted.

A note on other’s opinions

Almost everyone has read Fahrenheit 451 in grade school. If you think back or ask someone what it was about, they will probably remember the main plot point of how the government was burning books. Only, this is not the main plot point. Actually, in Ray Bradbury’s novel, other than a small sect, the people called on the firemen to burn books. The people literally advocated for the burning of books that were contrary to their beliefs or deemed “dangerous.”

When we refuse to listen to other’s opinions or challenge our beliefs in any way, we metaphorically burn books. Book-burning and repression of ideas (no matter how much you don’t like them) is the first step toward the disappearance of freedom. Not understanding others (no matter how much you don’t like them) is the first step toward ignorance and useless opinion.

Lastly, it would be wise to arm you with some tools to deal with the opinions of others. You should always be silent first, but sometimes discussion is necessary to question each other's thoughts and your own. But, it is useless to discuss with someone who only holds opinions. When you find yourself in a disagreement, it is useful to ask yourself and then the other person what evidence would convince them (or you) otherwise. If they respond with nothing, then the conversation is over. There is no point in discussing opinion which cannot be changed. But, the questioning of theory, which is always open to alteration, is a noble quest.

Opinions are neither good or bad

Your opinions, and those that you disagree with, are neither good or bad. They are usually correctly held or wrong, but it is almost impossible to know with certainty which they are. So quit acting like you know. Be a scientist of opinion. Create theories and constantly test them. Operate on a spectrum of certainty.