Greg Hull: Opinions vary, but...A couple pulled into my mill awhile back in their newer SUV. They have a cabin on the shore and were doing some remodeling. He had called a few days prior and was coming by to look at wood samples.
By: Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
“It is extremely interesting to see how people react to the telling of the truth” – WFB, 1977
A couple pulled into my mill awhile back in their newer SUV. They have a cabin on the shore and were doing some remodeling. He had called a few days prior and was coming by to look at wood samples.
As it was past the end of the workday on a Friday, I invited them both in for coffee and conversation. She didn’t want to get out of the car. After a bit of cajoling from me and a private conversation with her husband she reluctantly consented.
Even with Shele’s skills as a hostess and great cook, it took awhile before our guest began to relax. I didn’t think too much about it. Some people are shy. Her husband and I talked lumber and then began to chat about broader things. As the conversation progressed, she began to participate and asked questions about our life, home and family.
As the conversation developed, several salient facts emerged. One, she was from Europe and had come to the states as a college student. Two, She didn’t care much for her husband’s choice of a recreational home. Third, she had never been to this part of the state very much. Finally, and most importantly, she had believed the folks who lived up here were illiterate inter-married cousins in need of dental work.
Talk about an unfounded opinion.
Once she obtained some facts and had firsthand experience of one local family, her opinion changed. She was amazed to learn that college-educated, world-traveled people of good health and dental hygiene have intentionally chosen lifestyles sans high-speed internet and premium digital TV packages. And that these same folks lived full and satisfying lives.
She left with a much sunnier disposition than when she arrived, as well as a much altered view of people who live in the woods of Lake County.
Opinions are much like bellybuttons. Everyone has one. Few are noteworthy, even when diamond studded. Others need some serious alteration.
When opinions are an expression of personal taste, debate is irrelevant. No amount of health information or other facts will move me to alter my opinion that peach pie covered in cream is the elixir of life, the final proof of the existence of a benevolent God. I really don’t care if anyone agrees with me on that or not.
But not every viewpoint or position we hold about issues and life are opinions in the sense of being matters of taste. Points of view held after accounting for the salient facts, considering the rational coherence of the view, and building on foundational values, are a much different matter.
These viewpoints cannot be responsibly dismissed with a “well, that’s your opinion” rhetorical wave of the hand. As in “that’s merely your unfounded matter of taste.” Not every position asserted is an opinion regarding personal preferences.
Some will assert that because we are all different, no one should think that their views are the right ones. To expect everyone to agree with them is arrogant bigotry. After all, variety is the spice of life. In matters of taste I couldn’t agree more. Life would be dull indeed if everyone had only peach pie for dessert. Banana cream does have its place.
But in matters other than taste, I couldn’t disagree more. To assert “no one should think their view the right one” isn’t merely silly, it’s self-defeating. One is not allowed to disagree with it. The person saying that thinks they are right – and that everyone should agree with them.
A reasoned viewpoint cannot be dismissed by giving the person making it a caustic or pejorative label like “left-wing liberal,” “right-wing conservative” “bigot,” or worst of all, “fundamentalist.” I’ve long agreed with the writer who said “name-calling is the final refuge of those whose own positions are factually and morally vacuous.”
“About matters of taste, there is no disputing.” But big issues that face us are much more than matters of taste. Resolving our public problems will require skills beyond the shrill bantering of opinions.
It was the understanding of the difference between mere opinion and reasoned viewpoints that set the agenda for education for centuries. Grammar, rhetoric and logic were the core subjects of a good education. One needed to be able to think soundly, write clearly and speak persuasively. These were seen as the essential skills of the liberated citizens of a free democracy. The corollary capacities of listening, reading and thoughtful analysis came along with them. Without these disciplines liberty and freedom would be imperiled.
Somewhere along the way we stopped teaching those disciplines and then lost the attendant skills. The shrillness in the public square is just one of the evidences of that. Their loss is more than just unfortunate.
Without those skills we become little more than illiterate intermarried cousins, regardless of our dental hygiene.
That is more than merely my opinion.
Greg Hull is a sawyer and philosopher-at-large. He once went nine years without visiting the dentist. He had one cavity. His email is email@example.com.