“But you must have an opinion on the matter!”… is an exhortation we have probably all heard during some or other conversation. It’s seems to imply that if you don’t have an opinion you must be weak, lacking substance and in some way suffering from a deficiency of conviction! And so it is that many of us grow up believing that it’s essential to have well formed opinions at the ready for those dinner party conversations, serious debates at the bar and even in more intimate moments when you feel the need to ‘opine assertively’!
Some people have strong opinions on just about everything for fear of being perceived as intellectually vacant. For others it was their ‘parental programming’ during childhood that instilled the habit of being opinionated. Some because they want to provoke a reaction, and there are many who genuinely believe they need to have a position, a point of view on… everything!
Few realize that to have an opinion about anything is almost a cast iron guarantee that suffering must accompany its expression. Why? Well if you have an opinion about having opinions you may find the following somewhat challenging!
The Anatomy of an Opinion!
An opinion is essentially made up of two beliefs. The first belief is about the issue being addressed/explored. The second is usually the ‘I am right’ belief, and that may include the ‘even if you are also right then I am still more right than you’ belief! But where does the suffering come from? It’s not easy to see but the attachment to ones belief, like the attachment to anything, must generate some fear of loss. The fear usually shows up as some form of mental anxiety. In our heads that anxiety might sound like, “Will they see it the way I see it, will they accept what I say, will they perhaps have a more rounded, deeper, broader, more enlightened belief than me? Will I win the argument?”. These are subtle thoughts that tend to flash through our mind before and during the delivery of our opinion. Usually so subtle we often don’t notice them! But if we are self aware then we will feel the emotion of anxiety that such thoughts trigger!
We all know that old saying, ‘you can either be right or you can be happy’! The highly opinionated personality usually believes happiness is largely derived from being right. They will likely have a tendency towards being somewhat pedantic, interwoven with a need to be affirmed. Such are the characteristics of the ego! There are eight reasons why we usually make our self unhappy when we share a ‘belief based’ opinion. Eight symptoms, the strength of which only you will know by what you feel within your self at the time.
When we ‘opinionate’ in the presence of others it’s as if we are attempting to impose, some would say insinuate, our self upon the other. Any form of imposition will usually invoke a resistance in the other. To which we likely reciprocate with our own resistance. Conflict is not far away, albeit a sometimes gentle, perhaps disguised, interpersonal conflict. It’s usually an ineffective attempt to influence the other that will likely require our relationship repair kit …eventually!
The emotional content that accompanies the expression of an opinion is usually a tell tale sign of how much we want to win whatever argument is transpiring! Speech is sometimes rushed and the voice becomes raised, which are signs that we are trying to force the other to submit and admit to the rightness of our belief! The longer the other denies us such affirmation the more ‘forceful’ we will likely become within our intention and energy. It’s not a comfortable way to communicate.
It’s hard to notice we are attempting to control the other by trying to get them to see things exactly as we do. We want to control the other’s perceptions and perspectives, which of course is impossible. It’s an extremely unenlightened way to relate. We may sometimes ‘believe’ that we have succeeded, especially when ‘they’ decide to agree with us. But failure is an inevitable destiny of all attempts to ‘control’ another’s perceptions, if only because it’s impossible!
Holding to one belief is, by definition, to narrow our own perceptions and perspectives. We sabotage our ability to see the bigger picture, to learn from other perspectives, to expand our own horizons. All of which will limit our creativity and our capacity to understand others. To hold on to any belief or belief system is to wear a set of blinkers, one blinker across our mind and the other across our intellect.
We all know how much we try to make other people, and the world itself, fit our previously formed beliefs. If you have created a belief that someone was stupid yesterday then you will likely interpret their behaviour and ideas as a bit stupid today, regardless of how intelligent they may be. It’s what makes us lazy in our relationships. Every time you meet that person you will likely walk away with the feeling that you are not connecting. Why? Because you are not having a relationship with them, but with your belief/s ‘about’ them. This is often referred to as the baggage we bring to a relationship i.e. the beliefs we created yesterday about them are brought to the relationship today. Not exactly a fun way to build any relationship.
Attachment to anything means we close our ‘self’ around the object of attachment. To become closed is to act against our true nature as a human being, which is to be open and free. In the context of opinions we close our self around a belief. We sabotage our own intellectual capacity. The belief becomes the basis for a fixed set of perceptions and thoughts, which then become memories, which are then easily triggered. That’s when, in an interaction with someone we can be open and freely flowing one minute, but it takes just one word, or one idea, to trigger the little ‘memory package’ within our consciousness and tumbling out of our mouth comes the belief shaped opinion, usually loaded with emotion. Suddenly we lose our openness and a closed attitude ‘kicks in’. Which doesn’t exactly endear us to the other as they wonder about our lack of consistency. Some time later we may even reflect and chide our self for reacting in such an opinionated and emotional way!
All arguments are co-created by two or more people who each perceive their self to be threatened. Their attachment to their belief ensures that they will ‘perceive’ the beliefs of the other as a threat to themselves. It becomes personal. This is the root cause of interpersonal and international conflict across the breakfast table, the corporate table and the ocean table! As a consequence fear stalks the world.
When you hold to any belief about anyone or anything then you act against the way life was meant to be. We are life energy, which is the energy of consciousness. We are each a being of consciousness and our true nature is not to be fixed or get stuck in anything in life. That is what stops the flow of our life, which is essentially the flow of our consciousness. Notice whenever you create and hold on to any belief, consciously or subconsciously, your energy, which is you, becomes ‘stuck in’ the mental form that you are giving to the belief. Sometimes that can last a few moments or a few hours or many years!
Then we spend our time jumping between our beliefs like a squirrel jumping from branch to branch of a tree. Each time we land on an old belief we take the form of that belief and that temporarily ends our ability to flow. We get stuck playing old recordings! But it feels like familiar ground. It is perhaps the deepest level at which we create a comfort zone. It gives us a false sense of support. Some say religious beliefs tend to work in this way. Belief is mistaken for certainty, which perhaps explains many of the religious conflicts in the world throughout history.
There is a difference between an opinion and a point of view. Imagine two people one hundred yards apart looking at the same sculpture. Ask each to describe what they see and each would give a different description. They have different points of view! They are viewing the same object from different points. Which point of ‘viewing’ is right? Which description is right? Neither! Both points of view are neither right nor wrong. They are just different points of view. This is essentially why there is no right or wrong in life. That’s not an easy idea to embrace after a lifetime of right versus wrong ‘belief conditioning’. But it doesn’t give us permission to go and do anything we want. (but that’s another seminar!). Yes that can sound like just another belief but when you have this insight for your self that’s when you no longer need to believe or not believe, you see and know… for your self.
When it comes to ‘material facts’ e.g. someone says the temperature outside is 20 degrees and then someone else says no it’s not, it’s 15 degrees. Then, when they both look at a thermometer they see it’s 19 degrees. Nether was right nor wrong, they were simply ‘inaccurate in their estimation’. It sounds like semantics, and to some extent it is with regard to material issues like the temperature outside. But the trap of ‘right and wrong believing and thinking’ is only a short step from positive and negative, then good and bad.
But within our consciousness, and this is the key, there is no duality or polarity. In consciousness there is no right and wrong thinking. There is just… thinking. There are just thoughts. Thoughts are designed to flow freely. They are an early expression of our innate creativity. If we allow them to flow freely, like water that is allowed to flow refreshes itself, we will find our thinking will become more ‘accurate’ because we are open to new points of view from within and without! But as soon as our thoughts crystalize into a belief, and we hold to that belief, we stop flowing. We stop being in our true state of flow. And like water behind a damn we will stagnate and perhaps become a bit ‘mentally smelly’, so to speak! And we will ‘feel’ it!
Belief Based Opinions Generate Judgment
When we become quick to judge others thoughts and beliefs as right or wrong it’s not long until we to start forming beliefs about their beliefs as bad or good. That easily leads to a habit of judging the person themselves as good or bad. It’s just a trap into which we have been trained to fall. But it’s a trap in which we start to make our self feel unhappy! Then another ‘inaccurate belief’ kicks in, which says ‘it’s them that is making me feel unhappy’. But it’s not them, it never is ‘them’, it’s my own believing and thinking that is generating the uncomfortable and unhappy feelings.
So what’s the difference between an opinion and a point of view? One way to see it is as follows:
Opinion, minus the attachment to a belief, equals a point of view!
When any belief is released or dissolved then what was the ‘fixedness’ of an opinion becomes the ‘fluidity’ of viewing.
When you have a point of view you are aware it’s not the only one. You are aware that everyone’s point of view must be different because each one is looking from a different ‘viewing point’! That’s obvious whenever we both look outwards at something in the world with our physical eyes. But it’s not so obvious when we both look at something inwardly, something in our own mind. We may be sharing the same words, which appear to be describing the same idea or position, but we are each creating a different perception and making a different meaning from those words.
Many things contribute to that ‘meaning making’ including memory, experience, already recorded beliefs, our current mood and our personal desires. We may change our physical position relative to what we are viewing externally thereby creating a new point of viewing, a new perspective. So too, we can and likely will, change our inner perception of an issue if we are open to other points of view. Some people call that learning, others call it flexibility, some call it openness, while others call it common sense! But that’s hard for the person who holds to a point of view that they have hardened into a belief, which they keep trying to affirm and perhaps impose opinionatedly on others!
The reality of life is everything is always changing in the world around us. The same applies to the world within us, the world of our consciousness. Thoughts and perceptions change, perspectives and attitudes change. So it’s inevitable that life invites us stay free within, to hold fast to no opinion, to no belief. Being open and fluid, flexible and malleable, tend to be the foundation of a life that is lived insightfully and wisely. Perhaps that’s why we tend to find the wisest of the wise outside the constraints of one particular ‘belief system’!
The Big Belief Question
Which leaves us with a question that is crying out for attention. What about self-belief? Surely we need to have self-belief. Is there a difference between being self-opinionated and having self-belief! Many do believe that without self-belief there is not much hope. There are now many books, seminars and personal development experts who apparently teach people how to increase their self-belief. Many students of self-belief say they have found new strength through believing in themselves. Many have changed the direction of their life after they invested time and energy into strengthening their self-belief. However there are two interesting observations that may be worthy of our contemplation.
Is it better to believe in your self or to know your self?
In many ways (if not always!) we ‘believe’ because we do not know. Then it’s a short step to mistaking believing for knowing! We believe it’s snowing outside because someone told us, but we don’t ‘know’ until we go out and see it, touch it and feel it for our self. In such situations we create beliefs when we don’t yet know. But when you ‘know’ you don’t need belief. I don’t believe I can write an article I know I can. I don’t believe I can make tea I know I can.
Belief may take you to the seat in front of an audience of a thousand. It may supply you with the thought, “I can speak in public!”. But you will never ‘know’ until you actually speak. Many will say to others, “You know what, I believe I can give a speech.” But deep inside they will be in a state of doubt, perhaps terror. Where there is self-belief there must be, lurking in the background, doubt! It’s that doubt that eats away at their confidence and others will see it, especially when they actually walk out and stand before an expectant audience! So perhaps it reminds us that belief is just not enough. It can certainly give us some amount of courage, but it doesn’t fully empower us. In many ways it may eventually become a limitation.
Confidence grounded in ‘self-belief’ will always be shaky, vulnerable. Confidence grounded in ‘knowingness’ is, well, probably more like super confidence! Is not the thought, “I believe in my self”, code for, “I am trying to find the courage to take a risk and find out whether I am capable”? When we do take that risk and act, the result is ‘knowing’. In that moment self-belief becomes irrelevant! But we forget our ‘knowingness’, we lose the power of conviction that came with it. That’s when we try to use self-belief to kick start it again.
Besides who is it exactly that is believing in you when you have belief in your self? Do you believe there are two you’s? Can ‘the I’ believe in ‘the self’ or do you ‘know’ there is only one you! When you realise and know there is only one you does that not make self-belief a somewhat absurd idea?
Now there’s an interesting question? Answers on a postcard please to….. 😉
Question: Take a piece of paper and note down the three people closest to you and three people that you don’t get on with. Then write down two beliefs you have about each person.
Reflection: Note down when you first created your beliefs about them. Then ask your self do your beliefs fully reflect the way they are? Are your beliefs about them masking your ability to see something else in them, if so, what?
Action: Over the next few weeks ask each one to tell you the two beliefs they have about you! Try not to resist or argue as you listen! Just listen, go away, and reflect, but not too much!
By Mike George