Letter: Opinions and reasons
Laurie Raymond’s letter of Oct. 19 (“Purpose of sharing opinions”) was a welcome addition to the continuing dialogue the Post Independent encourages. She states that the main reason we share our opinions is that we can shape and enlarge our own beliefs by listening to other people’s ideas. Although some would disagree with that, believing that they need only give their opinions and others will accept them, she captures the essence of meaningful dialogue.
I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said that argument allows us to disagree without being disagreeable — a catchy, pithy adage, to be sure, but one that carries a subtle and cunning assumption, mainly that we have and will present reasons for our opinions. With reasons given, listeners can see why we believe what we do, consider those reasons, compare them to the reasons for their opinions and respond thoughtfully.
If we’re to truly engage in meaningful discourse, we need to begin by clarifying for ourselves why we believe something. Is it because that’s what our parents believed? Is it because that’s what our religion teaches? Is it because someone we respect told us that it’s so? Is it because we read it in a book? In an online post? Whatever the source for an opinion, having and knowing reasons helps us clarify why we believe what we believe. And reasons make our opinion, if not convincing, at least reasonable.
It’s possible, of course, to hold our opinion close, hug it comfortingly lest it be upset and bruised by contact with others. We state it, smile smugly, and pity those who don’t accept it. They, after all, don’t have our good sense to believe without question. Reasons aren’t necessary when we have “the Truth.” But some might find that disagreeable, and, to get back to Chesterton, giving reasons for our opinion can help us disagree without being disagreeable. And when someone responds with their reasons, we might just learn some more about the topic for which we hold an opinion.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
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