How to Make Your Opinion Matter

by STEVE BLOOM

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Everyone has their own opinion. It doesn’t matter if it’s about a subject we know little about; if it’s something we can argue, we’ll do it. With the spread of web 2.0, people have been spouting opinions through Youtube, blogs, Facebook and Twitter more now than ever before in history.

And most people would consider that a good thing. After all, we’ve been conditioned through school to voice our opinions through essays and discussion. It’s just a natural transition to want to speak out. However, despite what we’d all like to think, most people’s opinions don’t really matter.

Why Most People’s Opinions Don’t Matter

I’m not saying that no one has the right to voice opinions. That would be terrible and violate the foundation of one of our basic freedoms. However, I do think many people should voluntarily withhold their opinion unless they know some of the ways bad opinions are formed and how they can form good ones of their own.

There are actually several pitfalls people don’t seem to notice when they start forming their opinions. Falling into any of these can seriously undermine how good your opinion is.

1. Ill-informed

You can only form good opinions on the things you know well. I know it seems basic, but the number of people who freely give their opinions on subjects they know little about amazes me. This is especially true about news events and politics.

It might seem harmless for some ill-informed people to voice their opinions here and there about government. But ignorant opinions can cause problems. For example, how much does the United States spend in foreign aid as a percent of GDP? In a recent survey, the majority of people said around 20-25%. The true number is around 1%. This matters since 6 in 10 Americans want to cut foreign aid since they think it is too high. In a time when the country is thinking about cutting its budget, public focus on an inconsequential area is just hindering their work.

2. Biased

Biases are tricks your mind plays to skew your opinion one way or another without you even realizing it. It can affect how you take in information as well as your judgment and interpretation.

The most common form of this is confirmation bias. This is when people have preconceptions about a subject and search for information that backs it up while dismissing or ignoring anything that doesn’t. In this situation, people seek out information to support their belief, not to find out if their belief is true.

There are hundreds of biases though. These can range from stereotyping to the bandwagon effect, when someone goes along with a popular opinion simply because it is popular. Unfortunately, there’s really no way to completely eliminate biases. Just be aware of your opinions and weigh all the information you get equally.

3. People Don’t Want to admit when they’re wrong

Sometimes plain stubbornness keeps people from forming good opinions. Many people don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. It either makes them feel stupid or damages their self-esteem.

When you confront someone about something they’ve said and explain to them why they’re wrong, they might discount it by saying it is a matter of opinion. In some cases this is true since there is often room for interpretation.

However, if you have solid evidence and can even back it up with research studies, they might still be resistant. The person is just trying to protect their ego. In many cases they’ll adjust their opinion if the evidence is compelling enough. In other instances, their opinion is so firmly attached to their identity that no evidence is compelling enough for them to change their minds.

4. Emotions confuse opinions

People are emotional creatures. I think this is a wonderful thing since emotions bring us joy, love, surprise and anticipation. However, emotions can have an adverse effect on opinion-making. And despite what many people think, most opinions come from emotions not logic.

Because a large majority of opinions come from emotion, there is plenty of room for error. Advertisers have known this for years. Commercials target emotions to get you to buy their product, not explain why you should.

It’s only after you buy that you try to logically justify the purchase. Emotions affect our opinions much more than we realize. It’s like one saying goes, “the only people who think rationally 100% of the time are economists and psychopaths”.

5. Ignoring experts

Experts are by definition someone well-studied in their area of expertise. If you find someone who has a PhD in zoology, you can probably assume they know what they’re talking about when it comes to animals. However, experts are often ignored.

You can see this happening in celebrity endorsements. Just because a famous football or basketball star tells you to buy a diet pill should not influence your decision. It’s more logical to get an endorsement from an expert dietitian. But since our opinion on the product is influenced more by a star than a dietitian, that’s what the advertisers go with.

This can lead to some serious problems. Jenny McCarthy used her relative star power as a former Playboy bunny and actor to advocate how vaccines can cause autism. Because of her efforts, some parents have started to avoid vaccines for their children entirely.

However, she ignores the fact that almost every single scientist disputes her claim. And the major article she bases her claim on was later discredited because the author had fraudulently manipulated evidence and was eventually barred from practicing medicine entirely.

6. The world isn’t black and white

Either you’re a leader or a follower, with us or against us, part of the solution or part of the problem. Black and white thinking is often put into terms of either/or. There are only two sides to any discussion and you have to pick one of them.

The underlying problem with this line of thinking is that rarely are there only two sides to anything. The world is not black and white, but many shades of grey. This is difficult for some people to recognize though since people don’t want to take the time to actually consider and debate things. People want to form opinions quickly and easily. By having only two options to choose from, it saves people time when forming opinions.

How do you form good opinions? Any other ways you’ve noticed how people make bad opinions?
photo credit: zenobia_joy

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Comments

  1. Great post! After several debates where we would basically want to throw in the flag and take a time out, friends and I who disagree have learned to begin by talking about areas where we agree and then branch out so we’re not debating the entire topic but rather those areas where we disagree (one by one). Then we’re more likely to view good points the other makes without just disagreeing on idealogical grounds. We’ve had a lot of more success at convincing and communicating since then.

    • That’s a good system of debate. I enjoy a good debate, but I don’t get to do it as often as I would like. Most of the time, people don’t talk about anything I really like to talk about. And if they do, it is about the news where people get really heated. I tend to just listen in those conversations unless I know the other person can control their emotions.

  2. That was one super cool post. I think making your opinion get counted is about being strongly on a side. It doesn’t matter if you’ve a wrong opinion about things (napoleon, hitler, Putin?) but make sure you’ve one you think and believe in. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you opinion was, all that matters is what you did with it.

    • Having a wrong opinion really doesn’t matter. Everyone has a wrong opinion at one point or another. If you’ve got good support for your opinion and you believe in it, I say go with it.

  3. There’s a certain amount of power in speaking less. People can’t be sure how much, or how little you know. Then, when you do choose to speak on a topic you understand well, people tend to be more inclined to listen.

  4. I tend to stay away from politics because 1) it’s just not a good subject usually and will probably result in an argument and 2) I know that I’m not well versed in politics and rather than argue about something I don’t really know in and out. I really dislike it when people talk about things and they clearly don’t know for themselves; they are either repeating things they’ve heard or are going on half information.

    • Yeah, I don’t like when people talk about things they don’t really know anything about. Especially when there are other, better sources contradicting them. A lot of people try to tell me what it will be like to be a teacher and it just makes me scratch my head. A lot of the time, they are just using second-hand or outdated information.

  5. Oh you would not believe how many ‘knowledgeable’ people there are, here in Fethiye. Personally, I find out as much as I can about subjects from as many sources as possible and I try never to voice my opinion if it’d a subject I don’t know a lot about. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, as they say.

    The blogging world has also demonstrated to me that a lot of people seem quite happy to write articles on subjects they know absolutely nothing about. That makes me sad.

    Julia

  6. Mr Sleep says:

    Recently I had a co-worker try to start a conversation based on a report from a news network that I find unreliable. I tried to voice my skepticism without offending him, but he sees that news source as near holy.

    In the end, I spent almost five minutes requesting that we steer the conversation away from politics.

    I think that next time this happens, I’ll have to try Miranda’s approach. It may save a lot of grief.

    • That’s one of the reasons that I tend to stay away from talking about politics. People tend to just want to prove what they’ve heard rather than debate and discover the truth.

  7. A great post! It re-affirms lessons learned from life experience for the past 25 years of my life.

    I think the point is that listening, understanding, debating and exploring differences of opinion starts polarised, and then if you listen to and explore what’s being said, you can sometimes spot a problem with your own opinion/logic, openly admit this weakness, and even better, you can actually sometimes say to your “opponent” that they are right, but for the wrong reasons! This happened today and I find this comical – cue Monty Python and the argument sketch.

    Many moons ago in my early teens I was more stubborn than a mule. I’d stand by my opinion even if I began to learn I was wrong. Think I got that from my mother! I sure did make life for myself much harder than it needed to be back then!

    Saying that, you earn loads of respect for strongly standing by what you believe in :-)

    It’s strange, cos nowadays, I’ll happily acknowledge my faults, but will stick to my guns fiercely when I know I’m completely right.

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