Wednesday, August 8, 2012


“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”
William Blake

There are very few beliefs that I hold onto that are beyond contention (for me that is). I don’t mind voicing them out, but seldom do. And true to the definition, they have been some of my ‘firmly held opinions’ for quite a number of years.

The rest is pretty much up in the air. It used to be that I didn’t have an opinion on most things. I could afford to turn my nose up at politics, be oblivious to social injustice and tune out everything that didn’t interest me. My involvement in the world around me was so narrow that I might as well have lived in a bubble.  

And then things changed. I found myself in situations where I had to ask, reply, chime in or put forth my opinions. Though expected, it rarely happened. I was mostly quiet. A smile, a nod and a word or two to acknowledge and show total agreement on whatever was being said. Mimicking someone else’s beliefs out of admiration or for want of imagination is not very original, I know. But I didn’t care enough to form my own.

But now, in this era of information, I find it increasingly hard not to have an opinion on almost everything. You can only ignore things for so long. In an ever shrinking world where we are aware of happenings near and far, there is a sense that they will somehow translate its way into our lives. So it is hard to resist the pull - the pull to be informed and in turn to form an opinion.

Except to a select few, I am hesitant to share my opinions and I am especially wary of shouting it over the rooftops (which is what social media feels like to me and ironically, which is what I think I am doing right now).  I am hesitant because I am still working on being open minded enough to listen to opinions that negate mine without getting all worked up about it. Also, there is the fear of alienating people whom I like, who just happen to have opposing views. Then there is the fact that there is no guarantee that I won’t change my mind in the future. I would rather not attract attention to how often I jump ship, lest I seem fickle.

There are times when my opinion varies depending on what time of day it is. It is maddening to not be able to make up my mind, to take a stance, to argue a point. Even if I do, I am not the one to argue when I realize that my opinion does not jive with the majority. On occasion, when I am brave enough to voice it, I worry that my words might seem biased, proselytic, prejudiced, fanatic, dogmatic or plain insubstantial. The minute I am convinced of a view, a faint doubt starts to sprout that maybe there is some truth and merit to the counter point. And midway through my statement, I hear my own words and feel the strength of my conviction withering. I hear contrary arguments forming in my head and then.... I go blank.  

As much as I like harmony, I do enjoy being a spectator of impassioned arguments. I love the energy of the people who can state their opinions with such force that you can’t help but see it their way. When disagreements are challenged, I learn a lot from them. However, I do not have the nerves to be part of it. The art of debating takes many skills (that I don’t possess), like being articulate, thinking on your feet and being able to take criticisms. If any of these skills are missing but you do have an opinion, you will just find yourself angry. If you have all of these skills but no particular opinion, then you will at least have fun arguing for the sake of it.

I think being rigid in one’s opinions stunts the emotional and intellectual growth. We are constantly evolving in our thoughts and actions. So how are we to improve if we are tied down by our perceptions? My approach has changed lately - it feels good to linger, to take the the time to stay on the fence for a while, to allow myself to be swayed by popular opinion, to learn, to think through, to be objective, to do an about-face if need be and eventually to believe what feels right... at that moment. So yes, it takes some time for my opinions to solidify as beliefs. That is not to say that my beliefs are immune to change. They are not. It’s just that it might take a bit longer for the wind to change its course.

Paradoxically, when opinions are strong enough to become beliefs, they have the power to galvanize people to action. They inspire people to take up causes, fight the status quo and bring about change. But when they are opinions, they are mere rhetoric. They are fillers to avoid awkward silences during conversations. Given a chance, they have the potential of becoming much more. But it is a long journey and has to be a mindful one.

Meanwhile, I am learning to ignore the uneasy feeling in my stomach when I hear opinions that contrast my own. If I can’t ignore it and if it is something I feel strongly about, I venture hesitatingly with what I hope is a non-confrontational and a pacifying affix........IMHO.....

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