By Amarit Ubhi
There is something about the way in which we use and frame our opinions in discussions that hinders our process of having a meaningful discussion. I am not saying that opinions should not have a space in discussion; after all, much of what we do is make judgements and take positions on issues that we are confronted with. I simply feel like we have taken our reliance on the nature of opinions too far. We exploit the ability to have an opinion in various ways, none of which help produce good discussion.
If you take any discussion-based class, you are bound to be come across a peer stating their opinion as if it were a fact and expecting you also to value it as such, and certainly don’t think this is limited to a classroom discussion or in the comment section of a Facebook post. The line between fact and opinion is often blurred in everyday conversations. In this casual setting, the normalization of the abuse of opinions happens most often.
Why does this matter? It matters because we aren’t having productive discussions. If you expect others to value your opinion is a true statement, then it is likely you wouldn’t welcome any attempt of refutation. This highlights the bigger issue of our intolerance of ideas and belief systems that aren’t similar to ours. This is especially harmful when an individual believes that their opinion on something is just as valid as that of someone who has a lived experience.
Further, good discussions need well-informed people. Your opinions, regardless of how true you think they are, will only get you so far. There is a difference between having to acknowledge someone’s opinion and being expected to believe it. In a discussion, the former makes space for other differing opinions, while the latter does not allow for that to happen. And frankly, are you really having a productive discussion when everyone agrees with each other?
On the other hand, it’s easy to find people on the internet absolving themselves from any responsibility over their rude comments, because they were, “only stating their opinion.”
Using opinions to exempt yourself from the repercussions of your statements is not always a malicious thing. For example, I don’t want to be held responsible for my friend not being completely confident in themselves after taking my suggestion they wear the red shirt instead of the blue one. Still, I have often seen this tactic being used quite maliciously. I have seen it hurt friendships and diminish safe spaces. No one wants to be the victim of these jabs, yet so many people are not being held accountable for how their statements affect others. Our willingness to reach out and participate in discussion is only hindered even further when we have been unfairly attacked by the opinions of someone else. I would also argue that this is detrimental because words and voices lose their value and power when we don’t take them seriously.
So what can we do to promote safe and effective discussions? First and foremost, understand what it means to have a seat at the table. It means that not only should others at the table listen to you, but you have a responsibility to actively listen and engage with what they are saying as well. I also think it means that we should really think about what we intend to say. If you really want to have a meaningful conversation, are you willing to be held accountable by others and own up to what you say?
There is already a lot that gets in the way of all of us seeing eye-to-eye. I think we can make a greater effort to at least not get in our own way.
But that’s just my opinion.