Regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, location or number of pets, everybody on the Internet has one thing in common: we all have opinions. There’s a saying rolling around Pinterest right now that sounds a little something like this: “How to Start an Argument on the Internet: 1. Express an opinion. 2. Wait.”
The Internet is no different from any other modern medium. Television and newspapers are both chock-full of “experts” who are paid to do nothing but voice very strong opinions about everything from education reform to reality TV personalities to corporate policy. Having a decisive opinion on every single issue presented has definitely come in vogue.
Let me tell you a secret, though: not everyone on the Internet, or in the physical world at large, knows exactly where they stand on everything. It just seems like it because every time any issue comes up anywhere, somebody with a firm opinion on the subject crawls out of the woodwork and expresses themselves. It’s not that everybody has an opinion on everything; it’s just that everybody has an opinion on something.
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to have an opinion on something about which you didn’t previously care that much: elections, term papers and even family dinners will require you to tell politicians, professors and your Uncle Steve exactly what you think about divisive subjects. Also, I hope I don’t need to tell you that in most situations, just having an opinion isn’t enough. You must have a valid opinion, and in many cases you’ll need to argue to defend its validity. Let’s go over a few steps that will increase your knowledge of the world, motivate you to participate in events and movements and even make you sound a little more intelligent when you’re giving people a piece of your mind.
What is not sucking? Not sucking is defined in the realm of possessing a point of view as being able to think clearly and logically about a certain subject, decide one’s thoughts about it, and express and defend them to others when necessary.
1. Know what an opinion is. An opinion is the conclusion of an argument. It must be supported by empirical, observed, factual evidence, and while it cannot be proven true or false, it can be proven valid or invalid. In other words, it’s subjective and supported (or refuted) by evidence.
2. Know what an opinion isn’t. An opinion is not something that is definitely, unquestionably true, backed up by years of experience or observation. Scientific research and evidence do not add up to create an opinion. What I’ve just described is a fact.
Conversely, anything that a person thinks to be true without the existence of or need for strong empirical evidence is not an opinion which can be proven valid or invalid, but a belief. Beliefs do not rely on fact, but faith. This doesn’t make them wrong; it just makes them inarguable. Of course, anything that has actually been proven incorrect is neither a fact nor a belief, and it’s not an opinion either; it’s just an incorrect statement. No matter how hard you believe that fish can breathe air, take a fish out of water long enough and it is going to die.
3. Read. A lot. Before you can decide how you feel about something, you have to know a lot about it. While Googling something can turn up quite a lot of incorrect information, searching carefully and with discretion can turn up reliable information as well. Look for the source of your information. In general, information you get from a source with an avowed bias, i.e. a political organization, should be taken like a bad steak: with quite a lot of salt. Also, there’s a reason libraries still exist in the age of the Internet: librarians. Going to your local public library (or your university library, if you’re in college) and speaking to a human who works there is one of the best ways to learn about any subject. Once you’ve got the facts…
4. Listen to your feelings. Extensive reading from multiple sources combined with your own experiences should be enough to give you an initial hint about your thoughts about your subject. Your opinion doesn’t have to be definite in most cases. Despite what you see on TV (and what many people demand from people like politicians), educated black-and-white judgments of complicated issues are rather uncommon. (One notable exception to this rule is when you’re writing a paper. A proper thesis expresses a strong, defined, conclusive argument.)
Once you’ve figured out how you feel after learning all the facts, congratulations: you have an opinion. BUT WAIT, WE’RE NOT DONE—
5. Make sure you’re not using any fallacious reasoning. Sometimes, even if you’ve got your facts right, your conclusion—the opinion—can still be invalid because of errors in reasoning. You might have learned in high school English that these are called fallacies; you may have learned from watching politicians on TV that they make you sound stupid. I could list them all here, but frankly that would just take up too much space; the most common logical fallacies are described in quite digestible detail on this website from the University of Idaho. Read them. Learn them. Love them. And, if you recognize any logical errors in your own thinking…
6. Accept being wrong gracefully. Sometimes, evidence is presented which renders your previously valid opinion or belief invalid. Sometimes when you think a writer is irritating because of his war on the adverb, you read his book about his time in Paris and decide that he’s actually capable of some really beautiful stuff. Sometimes when you think your parents died in a car crash, a hairy half-giant crashes through your door and tells you they were murdered by Lord Voldemort. Sometimes when you think leggings should never, ever be worn as pants, you try on some Denim Flex jeggings at Maurice’s and walk out with three pairs. Everyone is wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. Just absorb the new information and move on.
In my humble opinion, you should totally go like this blog on Facebook and follow it on Twitter. If you have an opinion about this post, leave a comment below or on the Facebook page. It definitely wouldn’t suck to hear from you.