Opinion: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
The wild dogs of opinion have been loosed from their cages and are marauding through the country foaming at the mouth. The most basic tenet of civilization is to contain the dangerous animals— leash them, cage them, put them down if they have rabies and are loose. But there they are, snarling and growling and howling and barking on our evening walk through the news and that dangerous world out there has just become yet more dangerous.
We have become a country awash with opinions and become more and more lazy about doing the work of actually thinking deeper than the surface and backing our thoughts up with actual facts and defensible ideas. We seem to be incapable of crafting a point of view and making a distinction between what we casually think is true and what we have concluded after considerable reflection. For a point of view is something larger, deeper and wider, something worked out from a foundation of naming what we value, reading, writing, thinking, discussing, reflecting, adjusting. A point of view comes from the place we stand and is changeable when someone or something moves us to a different vantage point and we see something more clearly that was hidden in the place we stood before.
The most extreme limits of opinion came from interviews with Trump supporters. They were filled to the brim with opinions—Obama is a Muslin terrorist not born in this country, he was mysteriously not in the Oval Office during 9/1, Hillary has AIDS because Bill Clinton slept with Magic Johnson. When confronted with actual facts—no, actually he has gone to a Christian church his whole life and has a birth certificate and probably would not be allowed to be President for two terms if he was on Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list/ hmmm, actually he wasn’t President in 2001/ and “Really?!!!!” the response often was, “Well, that’s what I believe and nothing you say can change my mind.” Words like “horrifying, terrifying, unbelievable” fail to convey the disaster of a population incapable of the most elemental first steps of rational thought, especially when they’re armed with a vote.
But this carefully cultivated incapacity is rampant in all areas of public discourse. In my own field of Orff Schulwerk, I find people going to one workshop and leaving thinking it was “awesome!” and then going to another polar opposite one thinking that this too was “awesome!!” without any critical distinction or discussion about what worked well and what needed to be better. We’re proud of our ability to equally love—or hate—everything, but it makes us mentally weak and emotionally feeble. I find Europeans much more practiced in conscious critique and able to back up their thoughts with specific examples and clear ideas. Also true with the Canadians, Australians, South Americans, Africans and Asians I’ve worked with. What’s happening to us? Is it too much TV and shopping that has brought us so low?
First step is to get the wild dogs of opinion back in their houses and teach them to sit and heel. Then as we begin to cultivate a point of view, start from conscious reflection of what we value, what ground we stand on. Here I would recommend choosing things that affirm life over those that serve death, things that lead to a genuine freedom of spirit and law over those that oppress, exclude, marginalize, beauty over ugliness, health over money, democracy over dictatorship, communion and connection over brute power and hierarchy.
Those are the black and white issues that name where we stand. Then comes the work of all the gray in-between, the ideas and practices and news items that point one way or another, analyzed and discussed and thought about through informed facts, multiple points of view, time spent thinking. Always with the flexibility to change when new information or perspectives come into view.
If the top dog of rabid hatred and the lowest level of public discourse in the history of our country ever gets elected, God help us all. We’re done. But even if he doesn’t—and I insist he won’t!—we’re left with the snapshot of the American mind that is deeply disturbing. And it all comes back to an education that nourishes real thought, discourages random opinion and insists on hard data, real facts, multiple sources of information and clearly stated values to build that most precious architectural structure more intricate, beautiful and important than the Taj Mahal or Chartres Cathedral— the functioning human mind.
Off I go to another day of teaching to help do just that.