Respecting People or Their Opinions?

Opinions.  We all have a lot of opinions. And recent societal trend is to teach children that all opinions are of equal value.

Unfortunately, this well intentioned message has turned into a bit of a disaster. In our effort to treat people who share different beliefs and values with respect,  we have mixed up the idea of treating people with respect and treating their ideas as “true”.  Thus, it has become a maxim that everyone’s ideas are equally valid.

I experience this assumption in the classroom every day.  Students feel uncomfortable with challenging each other’s ideas, because they feel that everyone is equally right.  And if everyone is right, how can anyone be wrong?

Yet at the same time, because everyone’s opinion is equally valid, then it is much easier to hold on to an erroneous point of view, because I’m entitled to my point of view.  This might explain why we are continuing to see declining empathy among 20-somethings, and increasing requests from employers to emphasize team-work skills. We’re also seeing increasingly hardened party lines in political discourse, because, of course, our ideas are better than your ideas.  The result? Increased unwillingness to negotiate or compromise.

Increased ability to express our opinions with little or no editorial guidance though blogs and social media has increased the tendency to express our “untested” opinions.

Just stating or holding an opinion does not make it valid. I can have the opinion that the sky is green.  But that doesn’t make it true. I think we’ve mixed up the idea of respecting the person, with respecting the belief.

So what is the fix? Let’s start with evidence. We all hold opinions. Let’s start providing evidence to support those opinions.  And at the same time, let’s be aware of confirmation bias — our tendency to look for information that confirms our opinions, and ignore evidence that is contrary to our opinions.

Let’s face it.  When debating an issue based on opinion, usually the most powerful person in the room wins the debate. The only chance we have of persuading others is to develop informed opinions. Understand the facts, evidence, research around the issue, and come to a well-reasoned opinion that includes multiple perspectives. I can still respect a person without having to believe that their opinion is valid.


2 replies »

  1. You also have to take into account, that with certain issues, there isn’t a right or wrong. Politics for example. I hate when people tell me, “you just don’t get it, you’re confused.” No! I am not confused, I just do not agree with what you are saying. So we also have to be careful not to dismiss someone who disagrees with us by claiming they just do not understand. Nice post.

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