In my opinion, opinions are overrated. I’m saying this as a very opinionated person, who’s not shy to give advice.
It’s both a strength and weakness of mine. On the one hand, having an opinion—ideally a well-informed one—indicates that the grey matter inside your skull is functioning properly. But, on the other hand, having an opinion on everything, whether it’s what I think the best MCU film is (Thor Ragnorak, obviously!) or if dogs should be allowed on couches (never!) does not mean that I should necessarily say it.
I heard a quote from Ekhart Tolle that went something like, “Eighty to ninety percent of most thoughts are repetitive and useless.” I hold to that same idea when it comes to having an opinion.
We live in a day and age when having an opinion and saying it is both encouraged and seen as virtuous. Don’t worry, this isn’t a subversive way for me to neatly segue into social media and lambast it; I’m just priming the pump and stating the obvious. Just go on any social media platform or, news channel, (or this website!) and more often than not someone is telling you what they think about something and what you should do about it.
After all, it’s so easy in these days to have an opinion on practically everything now that we have the greatest library of information available to us at the click of a button.
Now, I used two fairly innocuous examples of opinions that I have about pretty inconsequential subjects; films and the domestication of pets. To be honest I couldn’t care less if you disagree with me and think that Iron Man 1 is the best MCU film or, that your Great Dane belongs at your side at all times. I just used them as hooks because I wanted to address a deeper lying problem that I am guilty of: when my overly opinionated self thinks it’s ok to give uninvited advice.
I want to acknowledge that I am conflating two things here: having an opinion and giving advice. But I think in this context the two are inseparable. My logic being that we give advice because we have an opinion. After all, it’s so easy in these days to have an opinion on practically everything now that we have the greatest library of information available to us at the click of a button. Suddenly we can become ‘experts’ and why not put all this information to good use—why not tell someone what we really think?
In theory that all sounds fine. After all, it might make you more interesting from a purely social standpoint; having a few tricks up your sleeve when you’re at a social function won’t do you any harm.
However, when you start directing your opinions to more substantial occasions, particularly when it comes to engaging in meaningful conversation with your nearest and dearest then I’d advise some discretion.
For example, a friend of mine recently found out that he has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is going to need chemo. This news was understandably devastating for him and his wife as well as his family and friends; he is much-loved by all. In preparation for the chemo, he wisely decided to research the best approach to take from a dietary standpoint as he wants to beat cancer quickly.
I do think that more often than not most humans who are working through a problem, and are of sound mind, will work it out and, if they need guidance will ask for it.
Ironically, over a meal, when I asked him how the researching was going, he told me he was a little dismayed and none the wiser. It turns out that depending on the doctor you speak to they each have a slightly different opinion about diet when doing chemo, i.e. some don’t recommend eating raw vegetables and some do whilst others advise staying away from eating red meat and processed sugars while some say you can but just in moderation etc., essentially it was pretty inconclusive. Well, me being me, and sensing the moment I decided that he needed my advice, after all, I had an opinion that I knew he needed to hear.
I told him what I’d heard and read myself about diet when going through chemo, which essentially advised that he eat all organic, stay away from alcohol and avoid certain meats. My friend, who is by nature graceful and kind, listened patiently as I pontificated passionately about what I thought he needed to do. But when I finished I couldn’t shake this lingering feeling that I’d greatly missed the mark. Later, my wife pointed out that she was pretty certain all he wanted me to do in that moment was listen. Her reason being that he had just been diagnosed with cancer, which is one of the worst things for a person to have to go through. She also pointed out that he most likely was going to have to stop eating certain foods that he loved.
There have been countless times that I’ve let my opinions get the better of me when the person sat before me just wanted to be listened to.
Needless to say, that once the patently obvious had been pointed out to me I felt like a total idiot and quickly apologized. In hindsight, and with the aid of my long-suffering wife, it was clear to see that what my friend really needed wasn’t my opinion and misguided advice, but an empathetic ear. To add further insult to injury after I had apologized my friend informed me that I hadn’t been the first to voice my opinion and that, “Everyone seems to know what’s best for me, which is actually making it only more confusing and stressful.”
I do wonder how often we fail in the daily conversations we have with friends and acquaintances. There have been countless times that I’ve let my opinions get the better of me when the person sat before me just wanted to be listened to. I also know that I’m not really hearing that person if I’m just waiting to tell them what I think they should do. In addition, I do think that more often than not most humans who are working through a problem, and are of sound mind, will work it out and, if they need guidance will ask for it.
One of the ways that I came to realize how wonderful it was to actually listen, even if I had a burning need to give an opinion all the time was to take inventory of the people in my life who I loved spending most of my time with. In doing this I found that the most distinct factor in all of those relationships was that those friends were great listeners. I’d suggest you do the same—you might be surprised.
Correspondingly, I would also say that those friends’ opinions were the ones that I really valued hearing the most as I knew that they’d given it serious, prayerful, consideration and weren’t just throwing out some arbitrary thought.
I once read a quote by Robert Camus that goes, “Walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and I’ll be your friend.” The imagery of those words seems very apropos to the above. Two friends walking together, side-by-side, enjoying each other’s company without any motive other than the desire to grow in love and understanding of one another.
Given everything that’s happening in the world we could all do with a dose of that and if it costs us a lot of our well-intentioned advice then so be it!