Last time, I debunked the myth that opinions can’t be wrong. How can we know what being right means unless wrong opinions exist? Plus, if all opinions were right, what would be the point of disagreeing with someone? It would only be to stroke your own ego, not because you might have a better argument.
The real problem with the myth, though, is the choice of words. “Right” and “wrong” are absolutes, so they’re too rigid to apply to opinions. A right (i.e., true) “opinion” is a fact, and as people who disagree with you would point out, opinions aren’t facts. A wrong (i.e., “false”) opinion is a lie at worst and a myth at best.
Real opinions can be backed by facts, but opinions are always flawed in some way. That’s because we’re flawed, too. We don’t know everything, and we don’t always think logically. Our feelings, biases, and mistakes, as well as lack of experience, poor critical thinking skills, etc., lead us astray.
That’s why “makes sense” and “doesn’t make sense” work better for rating opinions. Unlike “right” and “wrong,” sense has a range: a little sense, some sense, a lot of sense, etc. Also, just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it’s right. Have you ever thought you got the right answer to a math problem, but when you got your grades back, it turned out you were wrong? Your answer made sense to you because you thought you solved the problem correctly, but you didn’t.
The World Is Listening
Who decides if your opinion makes sense? The Internet says only you should. No one has the right to judge what you think, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. It’s your business, not theirs.
That’s fair if you only share opinions with your reflection, your diary, your dog, or a horde of zombies. They can’t form their own opinions anyway. But if you’re talking to other human beings who haven’t been infected yet, that mentality is pretty selfish. Do you really think your public opinions don’t affect anyone but you?
We love saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks.” But if you really didn’t care, you wouldn’t have most of your opinions in the first place. They didn’t magically pop into your head. You formed them because a TV show, movie, book, article, blog post, forum, friend, family member, or other information source made you think.
In other words, you have opinions because you cared about someone’s opinions. Even if you disagreed with them, that’s still caring. You paid attention long enough to reject them.
Opinions create opinions. Everything we see, read, and hear has the power to shape our thoughts. As soon as you share yours, you become a part of that process for someone else. You make them think, just like someone made you think.
What if they abandon their opinion because yours makes more sense to them? Congratulations. You just changed their mind. Or if they didn’t have an opinion, now they do — and it’s yours. Opinions are persuasive, even if you don’t want them to be.
They also spread. A lot. We share, pin, link to, post, repost, retweet, and reblog tons of things we read every day. Plus, scraper sites steal content from other sites. Sometimes, they copy whole posts! Even some on this blog have been scraped.
Bottom line: you’re not talking to yourself. You have an audience. According to InternetWorldStats.com, as of December 2017, roughly 4.1 billion people use the Internet. Will all of them read your opinion? Of course not, but you never know how many people will. It’s out there for anyone to find, so it’s not just your business anymore.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” (I don’t need to say where that quote is from, do I?) You can influence people’s thoughts with just a sentence or an image. That’s an amazing power.
But many people use it carelessly, especially on the Internet. The “opinions can’t be wrong” myth is one way to dodge responsibility. You can say anything you want, and no one is allowed to question it.
But what does it mean when you won’t let anyone challenge your opinion? First of all, they have to treat whatever you say as valid as is. They don’t have to agree with it, but they can’t correct it or say anything against it. So even if it’s full of myths, assumptions, wrong information, or even flat out lies, you’re telling people to accept anyway just because it came out of your head.
Which is more important: the content of your opinion or just having one?
Second, you’re asking for an unequal trade. If you’re allowed to make people think and even reconsider their opinions, why aren’t they allowed to make you think and reconsider yours? Are yours sacred? Is your brain more important?
Why We Need Discussion
I wanna think I’m wrong about people who shield their opinions. Most of them aren’t trying to mislead people, and they don’t think their opinions are more important (though it depends on the topic). They’re just sure they’re already making sense, so why would anyone need to challenge them?
Because everyone thinks that way. That’s why we can’t trust ourselves or people who agree with us to rate our opinions. They’ll always make sense to us because we have tunnel vision. Only by looking from other perspectives (or multiple perspectives at once) can we start to see the flaws and nuances.
That’s what discussion is for: sharing, examining, and rating opinions. It’s how we discover their strengths and weaknesses, along with the hidden biases and assumptions we use to support them.
Discussion — or discourse, as some people call it instead — gets a bad rap on the Internet. It makes people think of fighting, controversy, and personal attacks. But those aren’t problems with discussion itself. They’re created by the people involved in it.
What is discussion supposed to be? Let’s look at the synonym discourse first, since it has a more negative connotation. The first definition you see if you Google it is “written or spoken communication or debate.” There’s another hated word: debate.
But what about the first part of the definition: “written or spoken communication?” When we think of communication (or communicating), we just think of…talking. If you look up discourse in online dictionaries, the same idea keeps popping up. One of Dictionary.com’s definitions is “communication of thought by words; talk; conversation.” Cambridge Dictionary calls it “communication in speech or writing.” Collins Dictionary says it’s “communication of ideas, information, etc., esp. by talking; conversation.”
What about discussion? Once you look it up, the nasty “nickname” discourse sounds less intimidating. Still, the idea of talking and conversation shows up here, too. The first definition on Google starts with “the action or process of talking about something.” Cambridge Dictionary says “the act of talking about something with other people and telling them your ideas or opinions.” Pretty obvious.
No matter what you call it — discussion or discourse — it’s just talking to people and exchanging ideas. It sounds easy, but clearly it’s not since lots of people avoid it.
The Critical Role Subreddit
I was starting to think all fandoms hate discussion — unless it’s about topics most fans agree on or no one has strong opinions about. It must be the only way to keep the fragile peace. Then I visited the “discussion-based” Critical Role subreddit.
In case you’ve never heard of Critical Role, it’s a weekly web series where, as DM Matt Mercer puts it, “a bunch of nerdy voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons.” (I softened the language.) It stars a couple voice actors you might recognize: Sam Riegel, the Nick voice of Riven, and Laura Bailey, the voice of Serena the Selkie. I’ve been a casual “Critter” for a couple years.
The subreddit is “dedicated to promoting thoughtful discussion and analysis of Critical Role.” What sort of behavior is allowed there? Here’s a short list:
- Using strong language that isn’t meant to insult a real person (maybe directed towards a character instead)
- Voicing simple disagreements (“This is the way I think it should be interpreted. This is the way it should be done. This is what it says,” etc.)
- Sharing your opinion politely
- Telling someone they’re wrong respectfully
What isn’t allowed? The most basic rule of the Critical Role subreddit is “don’t be a jerk.” (Again, I’m softening the language). Being a jerk includes:
- Outright insulting someone
- Replying to a comment with an image that’s meant to make fun of the commenter
- Using quotes to insult someone
- Being condescending towards someone
- Telling someone they’re wrong disrespectfully (e.g. “Are you stupid? It says blah-blah-blah in episode 25. Duh!”)
Kindness seems to be the most important thing on this subreddit (and in the Critter community). They know discussion can get ugly, but they also know people should be able to speak their minds. Their Civility Policy sums it up well:
Discussion, debate, criticism, and disagreement are encouraged, but you must remain civil and polite when doing so…Treat others with kindness, patience, respect, and empathy. Do not respond to incivility with incivility of your own. Disagreement with one another is welcome, just stay respectful. Pay attention to your tone, as what you have to say is often far less important than how you choose to express it. If you cannot do any of these things, ignore the comment and walk away from the conversation or submission.
Don’t you wish the whole Internet followed these rules?
We still haven’t talk about the different types of opinions. What is an opinion anyway? Some things we call “opinions” actually aren’t, and that causes some of the drama in discussions. I’ll talk about this next time.