Adventures of the Mind
'Well, in my opinion, one of the most common maladies around is sick opinion. Just as your body needs a check up now and then, perhaps you need an opinion health check up too.'
'But where do I get one of those?'
'Oh, you can do it yourself. Just take any current issue and if you have not changed your mind even once about it, then you must be pretty sick. Also, check where you have been, you may have picked up an opinion virus from someone that flashed past you on your computer screen. Someone like Mrs. Wormwood in Matilda, remember the song?
Somewhere along the way, my dear you've made an awful error.
You oughtn't blame yourself now, come along.
You seem to think that people like people what are clever.
It's very quaint, it's very sweet, but wrong!
People don't like smarty pants what go round claiming that they know stuff we don't know.
Now, here's a tip.
What you know matters less than the volume with which what you don't know's expressed!
Content, has never been less important.
So you have got to be ...
'Hi buddy, have you had an opinion health check lately?'
'A what? '
'An opinion health check'.
Seriously though, informed opinion can be valuable, so long as we realise that is all it is, opinion, and it is so easy to confuse fact with opinion. It is also very easy to confuse truth with bias. The only pure truth is empirical truth. This is truth that is defined by some absolute standard of comparison, like when we buy a kilo of fruit or a packet of donuts. Most empirical truth used to support an opinion or argument is selected because it supports that opinion. Sorry for being cynical, but IT'S TRUE! (Is that loud enough?)
Currently the United Kingdom is debating whether to stay in or leave the EU and there are opinions flying around to try and convince you and me which way to vote. There are also some blatant lies, misrepresentation of the EU and what it does. But hey, that sentence I have just written is an opinion which I have expressed without any supporting empirical evidence. I am stating it as a fact which you may wish or not wish to believe. So, IGNORE IT!!
A picture accompanying this somewhat satirical article is one I sent to my grandson on a birthday card. Amos is a clever young boy, but the message of the picture is, I hope, if you want to have more informed opinions about many things, you must frequently change your point of view.
The English language is full of words with double meanings, depending on context, but those double meanings can help us. There are points of view which are opinions and there are points of view that are literal, that is, they change when you stand and look at a view from a different view point. That ancient, headless, Greek statue, (or was it Roman) has stood in that same position for ages. In that position it may have seen a great deal of change in what happened in front of it, but that is all.
Now another word used with at least two meanings is ‘stand’ (and I am ignoring the noun). How you 'stand' on an issue will depend on where you 'stand', that is, your physical view point. To change a view point and so improve your point of view, which will help you decide where to stand on anything, often requires serious effort, a real desire to see things from another angle or perspective i.e. from someone else's point of view. This requires emotional security, courage and a willingness to change. Of course we resist change, but if we do not change we are dead! Like the stone statue. ('To live is to change.' John Henry Newman.) So, before you turn to stone do an ‘opinion health check up’.
Now, opinions on events and issues of the past, we call it history, is always from a biased point of view - apart from a few empirical facts like dates. To get a better opinion on events of the past we have to look at them from many sides, in particular we must look at them in context, that is, with an understanding of the culture and values of the day. This is so important when we are appraising any race, creed or culture purely on events of the past. Although the past should affect opinion, what is more important is how open and honest that institution is about its past and how it has developed in the current age.
Here in Greece there is a famous ruin, the Parthenon. When you view it from below you get just a glimpse of its past grandeur. When you view the exhibits in the new Acropolis Museum you come to appreciate it further. (As well as how Greece feels about where many of the original artefacts are currently on display i.e. the British Museum and the Louvre.) When you view it from Mars Hill you are still more impressed. When you climb the Acropolis hill, enter its precincts and look at it close up - well, to be truthful, I was disappointed. I was far more impressed by the Erechtheion complex!!
So, sometimes you have to get up close to get a better understanding, to improve your point of view, to bring confidence to and increase your faith in your own opinions, which after all, are your beliefs.
The EU referendum will come and go. Opinions will inflate, burst and evaporate. What you place your faith and trust in, what determines your values, your relationships and opinions of 'your neighbour', however, is surely of greater importance. In my experience, more from past adventures than the present, interfaith dialogue has been one of the most rewarding adventures of my life. Those times I have been able to sit and hear and feel the faith of another who is not of my own has done more for my own faith than simply re-enforcing my own beliefs within my own community. This is serious 'point of view' moving. It is also so very easy to shape all our opinions on a single encounter. We need many opportunities to enter into dialogue, but sadly, they are so rare. In my current experience in Greece, to sit and discuss matters of faith with an Orthodox priest would make my mission, but as yet I lack the courage to make the attempt. However, in the meantime, this website I highly recommend.
Of course there is a danger. If you do too much shifting and moving you never make a choice or commitment on anything. If all you want to be is safe, then either stay where you are or perpetually change your point of view. Both these options, in my opinion, will lead to no lasting satisfaction. Time will just run out with you never getting on board any vehicle and opportunities will be gone for ever.
So - do an opinion health check, not so much on whether 'in' or 'out', or Trump or Clinton, but maybe on how you feel about a conspicuously dressed stranger you pass in the street.
Okay, it's not BREXIT this time, just a General Election, but you may still need one!....