Why Everyone Needs to Stop Getting Upset About Other People’s Opinions

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At some point during Human Evolution, people developed the ability to speak, to convey basic communication with another to a point so advanced that we would now define it as a language. After some development, human language developed to such a point where it was able to convey different thoughts, ideas, beliefs, emotions and opinions. After what I am confident in saying was a short amount of time, one of the first true human arguments about something ultimately pointless occurred.

Thousands of years of development later and the human race still routinely wastes breath, time and intellect arguing over things that ultimately don’t matter; our favourite colour, the artistic value of the Twilight series or what happened at the end of The Sorpranos. Politics, however, is something of a different beast; with politics, the differing opinions of two men can mean the difference between peace and war. It is the huge implications that cause people to take political discussion so seriously. How seriously? Remember the Occupy Movement? A movement that held such strong opinions on social and economic equality that protesters abandoned their homes and lived in a tent for weeks on end. In 2011 and in 2013, quite a few Egyptians were of the opinion that the President of the time wasn’t quite up to snuff, thus the course of Egyptian history was changed. Yet obviously people, as we have already mentioned, do sometimes differ on their views. Sometimes these different views can lead to quite serious consequences.

Although, we should remind ourselves that differences of opinion are fantastic, important things. If everyone agreed on everything up for discussion, then there would be no need for multi-party politics, there would be no innovation; the world would be filled with a giant, intellectually stagnant, unanimous lump of people. Discussion and opposing views can lead to great things, to developments in thought and science, to new ideas and philosophies. Some of the greatest thinkers have developed schools of thought because they didn’t agree with what someone else said, enriching academia through thinking “that doesn’t make much sense to me”. And in the consequent debates, the ideas of both parties developed beyond the original, simple starting point. By exposing the flaws in one another’s arguments, the opposition reinforce and evolve the idea, covering the holes in an argument with shiny new thought. However, as you have no doubt experienced yourself, not everyone takes a difference of opinion as a thrilling opportunity for intellectual debate. What this article hopes to achieve is not to shout the virtues of different opinions or scold those whose opinions are loudest, but to point out that it is a fundamentally stupid thing getting angry and upset about it.

Of course, there is the caveat that not every opinion or view is equal to another; there is always going to be the issue of being better informed, having thought about it or simply not being thick. If, for ludicrous example, you meet a person that is of the opinion that stone, if carved into the shape of wings, will allow him to fly when he jumps off the cliff in a few moments time, that person is still most certainly going to die if allowed to jump. Opinions are not infallible; they possess every capacity for being blazingly wrong, contrary to the belief of people who believe that because every opinion is perfectly valid theirs isn’t quite so stupid. However, in the world of politics, which is primarily what we are addressing in this circumstance, in what is by and large intellectually informed discussion, things are less clear. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are rarely clear-cut solutions or answers to the topics that present themselves in politics, as well as a great many other things. Obviously if there was, the world would be a much simpler and less-on-fire place, as well as the fact that I wouldn’t have had to write this damned article.

What is important to bear in mind, not only in this context but in life in general, is that literally everyone else in the world is not you. You are unique in all aspects and no other person has experienced the same things. I know, this sounds like a rather obvious and “you are a unique and beautiful snowflake”-esque spiel, but stick with it (Despite the fact that I’m about to talk about blancmanges). If I were to ask how you learnt the word “blancmange”, different people would have different stories. Most might not remember when they first came across a blancmange; others may remember a long since passed cooking session with a parent or at school. Another might not really know what one is, or immediately think of the mid-80s English Synthpop band. Thus everyone has a very slightly different idea of what a blancmange is. As such, to take the “blancmange example” to its natural conclusion, if you were to form an idea or opinion centered on a blancmange, then no single other person would have quite the same thing in their head. Especially if you don’t really know anything about blancmanges.

Mmmm…delicious subjectivity

To apply this to a slightly less surreal example, this can be observed when you see someone declare themselves as “not a feminist” (I am not having a go at feminists or feminism, before you get offended. Haven’t you been paying attention?). Little else, besides Male Chauvinism and “women belong in the kitchen” jokes, will boil the blood of a feminist quicker. But consider, if you will, that some people’s definition of what makes a feminist can vary wildly. Within feminism itself there are several different branches: some who believe that equality is defined by social rights, liberties and pay; others consider that to achieve gender equality, you must change the way people perceive women, the social connotations and attitudes of everyone in society; others simply believe in vengeance against all men (man-hate is one of the sadder assumptions about feminism, but is regrettably accurate in regards to a minority of feminists). It is important to remember that no one particular group chooses what “feminism” really means; you cannot identify as one and then decide that everyone else who doesn’t conform to your specific concept is not. If you do something, act in a certain way that causes you to define yourself as a feminist, then no one can really tell you that you’re not, especially if the only reason is because your form of feminism doesn’t correspond with their version. So when someone says that they “aren’t a feminist”, that doesn’t, as some believe, mean that they are against women’s values or gender equality, let alone that they are “OK with rape”. Two people who do and don’t consider themselves feminist could have exactly the same values, but their opinion on feminism could differ. Is it worth squabbling over an abstract idea? No of course it bloody isn’t.

Compare it with religion; Catholics may say that the Protestant values and method of worship are invalid, but they cannot deny they are Christian. Ideologies, opinions and beliefs all have different denominations and branches within, all following the same basic principle but varying on the specifics. What we can determine from this observation is that almost all points of view are subjective to the person who holds them. What we must understand is that the reason someone holds a different view than you is not because they are stupid; there is always a reason why someone has their own views. So, rather than get upset when someone has a different opinion, you should seek to understand why they think differently to you. Is it because of ignorance? Gently attempt to enlighten them, if they are willing. Do they not care about the matter? Then why do you care what they think about it? If it matters to you, not everyone else cares. Is it because you, yourself are being an ignorant twit and haven’t considered, for a moment, that its you who has made assumptions without considering the bigger picture? Sometimes, it can be something as simple as having a different ideology. But remember that an ideology is much like a belief, something that you hold to be true: not something that necessarily is true.

Ask an American what they think about Capitalism. Do it. In your head, if there aren’t any Americans around. Did you get a perfectly reasonable answer, suggesting the advantages and disadvantages of a Capitalist state? Maybe, depending on who you asked (or your own pre-conceived notions of how an American would answer). People are often committed to a particular ideology or notion, without ever really thinking about it. This forms judgements in people’s minds about concepts without any kind of justification, one of the many ideological assumptions that people make without any kind of conscious thought. If you think of democracy, do you associate it with a positive or negative feeling? What about autocracy? It is when two people of opposing ideologies argue that there is the greatest chance for needless personal offence, which is patently ridiculous; you cannot have a reasoned discussion between people who hold certain beliefs about subjective truths. There is no possible way for any kind of intellectual debate to occur, merely a shouting match, when you challenge someone’s beliefs on the basis that they sound ridiculous (something I call the Atheist Dilemma).

To conclude, how might we avoid getting easily upset about other people’s opinions? Well, beside the realisation that who gives a damn what other people think, there are a few simple pieces of advice. Primarily, before you argue, consider what assumptions and prejudices that you yourself hold. If someone declares themselves a Tory, that doesn’t make them a pretentious, posh, proletariat-hating prick. Consider also what assumptions that your opponent has, why do they believe as they do? Also, finally, consider that no opinion is absolute and set in stone. People’s opinions can change and develop, if presented with new information. People are not going to change their opinion if you scream and bawl at them; put forward an argument, a logical one that makes sense. And when they poke holes in it, accept that you might be, that worst thing of all, completely and utterly wrong.

This article was written with the express intent of encouraging intellectual comment, at some points playing “devil’s advocate”. So don’t be a knob in the comments eh?

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