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To be – or not to be – opinionated

It’s like a reverse form of writer’s block.

Instead of spending so many minutes they amount to hours in front of a computer screen, waiting for brilliancy, I start with an often less-than-brilliant thought I’d like to share, and then proceed to draw a blank. The idea hasn’t disappeared. Rather, my eagerness to share my opinion is slowly replaced by worries over how I should say it, whether it is in fact my real opinion, whether I should think the subject through a little more before “enlightening” everyone with a stream of my nonsensical consciousness.

I’ve thought about this matter a lot, mostly because people I’ve spoken with sometimes get frustrated when I tell them that my opinion is to not have an opinion. What I mean when I say that, is my “opinion” is that none of the options they have provided me with are ones that I would choose to adopt as part of my own personal beliefs on how the world should operate. This generally doesn’t appease my counterpart, and the conversation descends into an argument over the validity of my response.

After wondering myself whether what I thought was being “open-minded” is actually quite narrow-minded, I’ve decided that it comes down to this: Whether it is “better” to have an opinion – or at least pick a starting point – that could be subject to change over the course of a life full of learning and experiences, or to acknowledge that you may not know everything, and that you are undecided?

Is it better, I guess, to be a part of the dialogue for the sake of being part of the conversation? For example, is it better for a Canadian to vote because we have been given the right to vote, and thus are entitled to voice our opinions on how we should be governed, even if that voter knows nothing about politics, governance, current affairs, or social issues? What if they know all there is to know, and don’t like any of the options?

Is it possible that, in not being able to pick a side because of uncertainty or indecisiveness or a lack of viable options, you become a part of a different conversation, one that is less about arguing the merits or pitfalls of one side or the other, and more about discussing all sides simultaneously in search of a new answer. Maybe it even becomes the search for a new question.

Another example: In arguing the pros and cons of capitalism versus communism, maybe it’s possible that in not siding with either, or a combination of the two, that we begin to ask ourselves the self-reflective questions we really should be asking ourselves. Questions like, ‘What is it that we need, now?’ instead of, ‘Which one wins?’ or perhaps ‘What has worked in the past?’

I read a book last week titled “The Evolution of the Doctrine and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention,” which, in a sentence, analyzed how United Nations’ and individual State actions have set precedents for where we legally, morally, and ethically draw the line between non-intervention and taking action. (There is of course no actual line, and the real issue being debated is that if States have a right to state sovereignty, and humans have a right to protected human rights, when do violations of the latter give the international community the right to “violate” the right of the former.)

It was a fascinating read (despite the fact that it was published in 1999). But there was one line in particular that stood out to me, and it didn’t really have much to do with anything. It was about how, in giving people the right to care for other people, or for the rights of other people and the rights of humanity, that you are also giving them the right not to care.

This logic is applicable to pretty much anything: In giving people the right to vote, you are giving them the right not to vote. If you have the right to speak, you also have the right not to speak. And when it comes to being constitutionally allowed (within reason) to express yourself and your opinions, you are also equally being given the right to choose not to do so. My question is whether, in consciously choosing not to do something, that makes it any less of a choice? If I don’t choose capitalism, and I don’t choose communism, and I don’t particularly agree with combining the two, does my decision mean I simply do not have an opinion?

Can’t not having an opinion be an opinion?

It’s not a matter of disinterest, in fact I could be just as knowledgeable on a given subject as anyone I’m talking to. When options A, B, and C don’t fit the bill, walking away would be disinterest. Choosing option D, however, is a choice, if for no other reason because it is a declination to choose any of the first three.

And anyone who has ever taken a Scantron test or watched “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” will know that “None of the Above” is, on occasion, the correct choice.

 

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