I have great respect for people who know when a debate is beyond their expertise. It takes restraint and humility to say, “I don’t know enough about the new policy to have an opinion.” People with opinions about everything are as tiring as those with no views. This isn’t to say we should censor ourselves to avoid talking about social issues, such as poverty and racism. Sharing ideas for the betterment of humanity is a social responsibility.
I’ve started listening more carefully to myself. I’m not impressed. “You must try Green Leaf. The food is superb.” Really? If Paula’s two favorite foods are steak and fried chicken, she’ll be disappointed. When it comes to books, my enthusiasm is entirely unstrained. “If you only read one book, read The Four Winds.” Really? There are lots of good books out there. How did I become an expert on what others should read? Who appointed me to toss around opinions without understanding or accountability?
Opinions have caused more ills than the plague or earthquakes on this little globe or ours.Voltaire
Too often, we claim to know something because we read an opinion piece or heard something on our favorite news channel. It’s particularly annoying when a friend repeats soundbites from an unreliable source, tossing it out to see if it sticks. Take FOX News, where some hosts heap heavy doses of opinions with a sprinkling of news. Fox’s viewership is 95% white and two-thirds people 65 and older. That means a lot of older white people who depend solely on FOX News don’t know when they are being lied to. They can’t know what they don’t know.
Medical opinions from the mouths of anti-vaxers include: “The answer to COVID is herd immunity through natural infection.” I’d point out the unreasonableness of this approach since reinfection can happen in a matter of weeks. Supporting my opinion, I’d add that polio and smallpox never reached natural herd immunity—thank goodness. Vaccines eliminated them. Sharing my view resulted in zero converts. Openness to new information requires embracing what we don’t know tighter than what we know.
The less we know the harder we push to defend our ignorance. The greater our unconsciousness, the quicker we are to end up arguing. We identify deeply with the thoughts that create the opinions. The more we argue, post on FB, or tweet on Twitter, the firmer our mental positions.
Vaccines (almost) eliminated diphtheria, rubella, measles, mumps, and whooping cough. When a case shows up, it’s dealt with quickly to avoid spreading. Availability of Covid-19 vaccines didn’t change millions of people’s thoughts, needlessly killing nearly a million people based on inaccurate opinions. Herd immunity via Covid vaccinations is dead— the opportunity we let slip away. Like flu viruses, Covid-19 will now establish itself as an endemic pathogen. It didn’t have to be that way.
Human beings feel a need to have an opinion on issues they can never truly know. Vocalizing our opinion on everything is not only exhausting but can be destructive. There is a vast chasm between opinions and informed opinions. Be informed instead of opinionated. Plato said, “Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” When we find ourselves in this space, can we find the courage to say, “I don’t know.”