I woke up very early while off the coast of Indonesia on a cruise ship and ventured to the galley for a cup of coffee. A middle-aged woman invited me to join her while we were waiting for the rest of the ship to come to life. Most of the conversation was harmless enough. But at one point she proceeded to lecture me on an area of psychology that I researched and taught. A great deal of what she pontificated was inaccurate.
When I gently corrected her and pointed out evidence that led to a very different conclusion from hers, she stiffened and said, “That’s your opinion.” Clearly, she was telling me to change the topic. I asked if she was interested in some of the latest findings on the topics she brought up. She repeated, “That’s your opinion.” After that we silently finished our coffees, barely exchanging glances when we passed each other on the ship for the rest of the voyage. Although I did enjoy our exchange, I felt bad for her. If she had an open mind and had been willing to listen, both of us could have learned something.
Obviously opinions are judgments and therefore our values are in them. However, personal beliefs should not make opinions immune to facts. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but no one is entitled to make up facts. Information is constantly changing and we should be open to it and ready to change our views when new facts are presented. For instance, I was convinced that global warming was a natural trend until I saw convincing data that demonstrated jumps in temperature considerably higher than the natural order.
Another example is the Dalai Lama, who at one point gave up cherished astrological beliefs he held since childhood. In The Universe in a Single Atom he wrote, “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” If the leader of a spiritual group can change deeply held convictions, anyone can.
Clearly, the old adage De gustibus non est disputandum is accurate. There is no disputing about taste. But the adage refers to tastes and not opinions. I don’t like chocolate ice cream and I can’t be talked out of that, but I can be persuaded that global warming is amplified by man-made hydrocarbons, even though I resisted for a long time.
Change should be embraced as necessary for growth. If the Dalai Lama can change his mind, why shouldn’t we? Opinions should be an evaluation of the best information available to us at a given time. Information is organic and constantly morphing, giving us the opportunity to revisit our opinions and perhaps change them. All of us have the right, if not the obligation, to change our opinions as the information changes. Although, that may just be my opinion.
illustration: tom lamothe