Forming opinions is an art form, but really more of a brutish and ugly one than one worthy of much admiration. My dad used to tell me opinions were like buttholes — everybody has ones, and they usually all stink. He’s an old western, traditional, Norman Rockwell type of man, and he had whacky turn-of-phrases, colloquialisms, and clichés like these for a hundred other things, but in this one I think there is a stark honesty and truth. Opinions can be well thought out, precise, honest, and even beautifully articulated, but in the end, even the most respectable and prestigious opinions are rather ugly. They are, well… like my dad said. However, this somewhat crude analogy may prove actually rather useful, and in it you may find a guide to making the world — or at least your world — a better place, one butthole at a time.
Opinions are mischievous little creatures, in large part due to the muddy cognitive process of belief formation. Belief formation is, largely, flawed, and is a concept that is difficult to understand and think about; it’s largely imprecise and a little bit scientific, left to the work and devices of philosophers, psychologists, cognitive thinking specialists, and behavioral economists. As humans, we tend to form stereotypes or relatively quick judgments about others based on relatively little to no useful information. We are also blind to many changes in our environment, and may be subject to processes of selective attention. We are also guilty of only accepting new information if it agrees with our previously held beliefs, a heuristic called the confirmation or ‘my-side’ bias explored mostly by Nobel Prize winning economist Danny Kahneman. We tend to decide what we believe, and nothing will change our mind because we only listen to ourselves, and the other people who tell us we’re right. It is, perhaps, a reasonable explanation for the rise of 24-hour news cycles and powerful news pundits and talking heads, not to mention the emergence of “fake news” accusations. This is, all to say, that the way that human beings as a species think is subject to mistakes; we form our beliefs based on broken processes. Consequently, our opinions tend to, well, stink. Your opinions stink. My opinions stink. Awesome… right?
Or not. Knowing this alone isn’t actually helpful. After all, life is largely based on nothing except for the beliefs and opinions we form for ourselves. Hardly anything any of us does is based on objective and complete fact, but instead what we do is rooted in beliefs, opinions, faith, and so on. Opinions are inevitable, and quite frankly, necessary for any quality of living or self-awareness. So, with this is mind, there are some more constructive ways and agreeable ways to have these faulty ideas.
First, decide which one opinions and beliefs are actually important, and which ones are not. It’s easy and almost inevitable to from quick opinions about nearly anything and everything: foods we like, music we like, what qualities are important in a girl or boy, a friend or romantic partner and whether we approve or disapprove of tattoos or someone’s unnaturally colored hair. Some of these opinions are important to your overall happiness. Most, however, are not. Decide which ones you need to be the most true and genuine version of yourself, perhaps your beliefs and faith and ideas on good manners, and quit having opinions about things that aren’t important. In very laymen’s terms, chill out about the details or the things that don’t affect you. Understand your sphere of influence, and when it comes to everything else, just do what makes you happy and let everyone do the same. At the very least, concerning the opinions on things that aren’t important, keep them to yourself.
Then, be consistent in the application of your opinions. As a whole, we probably should have the opinion that it is best to just plainly be nice to people, and that being an overall good and polite human being is important. So, then it would naturally follow to act in a way that is kind to others and to exercise good manners. However, the important part is that the important opinions are active entities. In other words, don’t have just an opinion, but when you decide what’s important, do something about it. A strong opinion that sits idle and unattended to is useless and especially ugly. So participate. Take surveys offered by the institutions important to you (Lawrence University opens a survey February 12, and if you have any thoughts about your school you should take the survey and let them know what you think. Take every opportunity you have to be open and honest), vote, write a letter to your local congressman, apply to write for The Lawrentian, or maybe write your own volunteer editorial for The Lawrentian. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Be active in making a difference; and do not post your opinions to Facebook, or Twitter or any other social media.
Finally, don’t forget to wipe… your opinion. Keep it maintained and updated. An unmaintained opinion is gross and unhealthy. The ones the form the basis of your beliefs — your faith or values, for instance — might remain constant, and probably should — it’s important to have a hill on which to plant your flag — but life, the universe, and everything is ever changing. Your opinions should be too. This means going out and seeking new information, spending time reading and learning new things and being willing to change your attitudes about certain things. It also means asking important questions about the world and asking yourself important questions, as well. Have an open mind and don’t forget to check in with yourself regularly.
Of course, perhaps you see through all of this, because ultimately everything I’ve written is an opinion on opinions. It’s an argument that points its finger at itself and collapses under its own criticism. It’s as ugly as any other opinion. But perhaps you’ll find it useful, and the world, and Lawrence University especially, would be a much more agreeable place if opinions weren’t used as a means of waging a holy war on anything and everything. Simplifying our ideas, and the world around us, can never hurt. I believe what my dad said is true. We all have opinions, and they probably do stink, and that’s okay; they are nothing to be ashamed of. But there is no better way to ruin friendships, make enemies, or piss people off than running around wielding yours like a weapon and sticking it on people’s noses.