The Stoics saw ‘opinion’ as the source of most misery.
With something so abundant in our own minds and own lives, it is extremely difficult to see how something so common could possibly be so damaging if left unchecked.
Opinions aren’t all bad though. A person with no opinions on anything is just as bad as someone with an opinion on everything. Opinions help to form our identity and on important issues in our lives. Opinions are needed for changing the world for the better.
However, it is worth taking a stoic approach to the concept of opinions. It is worth remembering that they take objective situations and make them good, bad, wrong, right, essential or deserved. The same event can have multiple interpretations.
Living in modern times, it is very normal to feel constant pressure to draw your line in the sand and stand firmly on one side of a debate. Sitting on the fence for anything is seen as a bit of a cop-out.
It is tempting (and sometimes even fun) to take part in debates online or with friends. Sometimes about trivial things, other times about more serious topics. This is largely down to our impulse of wanting to sound informed and intelligent on a subject, even when we’re not (and perhaps have no intention of being so).
I have a load of respect for people who share their expertise on subjects that I have no clue about. Whether the field be economics, engineering, psychology, religion, politics or sport, there are some very qualified opinions and many unqualified ones.
In many of these instances, it is very easy to get dragged into the mud and wrestle with pigs. But as everyone knows and often forgets, the more you wrestle with pigs, the dirtier the mud makes you, and the happier the pigs become. There are plenty of trolls online who will be happy to give you their opinion on something they have no clue about and argue all day about it.
Because of all this, I have also begun to gain a lot of respect for people who know when a debate lies outside of their expertise. When they recognise that the topic has nothing to do with them or their social responsibility. It takes restraint, responsibility and humility to be able to say ‘Yeah you know what, I don’t really know much about the ins and the outs of that new policy/don’t really have much experience playing football, so probably shouldn’t have a too strong opinion on it, if any. If I do have an opinion, is it useful for me to be vocal about it and add it to the conversation?’
With this sort of attitude, not only will it relieve us of so much mental stress, imaginary arguments, more unnecessary problems and poisonous tribalism, it will also hopefully fuel our curiosity for uncovering the actual truth on subjects.
This isn’t to say that we should censor ourselves, avoid uncomfortable topics or ignore truly dangerous or unethical discourse that should always be shut down. It is our responsibility in certain areas to be informed and to speak up, but it is important to know where those areas lie.
Choose your battles wisely, you simply don’t have enough mental capacity to fight them all. No-one does.
Having a vocal opinion on everything is not only exhausting, it’s not necessary.