Empathy vs. Being Right: Respect Other People's Opinions
Let’s talk about people's opinions, shall we? I want you to think about why it’s important to respect other people’s opinions even if they’re not right. Also, I’d like to convince you why it’s crucial to have a good relationship with someone rather than just showing that one is being right. I think everyone can relate to that problem pretty well in their everyday life.
How to handle opposing views
Imagine yourself in a situation where you talk to a member of your family or a colleague about some topic, let’s say politics, religion, climate change, ethics, something someone said on the news, whatever bothers you… and after a few exchanges you realize your take on the topic totally differs from that of your talking partner. More than that, you actually know that your counterpart is wrong, or has a totally incomplete picture of the situation, or that his or her knowledge is distorted or exaggerated. You even have the feeling that the other one is very confident and totally invested in their view.
How are you going to react? Are you going to try to convince them that they are ignorant or crazy or that their view is simplistic? Are you going to quarrel with them and try to impose your knowledge on them? Or are you going to respect their opinion?
I can tell you in most cases it won’t end well. You’ll still be friends and family, but the vibes will be so low for a while, no one will feel that they emerged elevated or somehow enriched or convinced. Confrontation without resolution only leaves anyone with poor impressions.
What’s the best way of handling such a situation? Shall we never confront anyone for the fear of hard feelings? Obviously not. But a few insights about how people tick and what is really important here might help you choose your battles wisely and help you lead your life with as little friction as possible. Let me help you respect other people's opinions and explain what I mean by that.
opinions based on Anecdotal Evidence
First of all, we people are ignorant of basically almost everything. We are busy with our daily lives. All we are really familiar with is our family, friends, school, work, hobbies and a few places we’ve been too. Anything that goes beyond that we have no actual knowledge of. We have to rely on authority to find out more and that’s okay. As limited beings we have no time and no capacities to know everything. That’s also one of the main reasons why the daily talks we have with other people are really trivial, based only on our limited daily experience. At the end of the day most of our personal insights are just anecdotal.
Anecdotal means realisations that are based on personal account rather than facts or research. That’s why anecdotal evidence is not necessarily true or reliable. It might or might not be correct. Anecdotal evidence is not necessarily wrong evidence. It just means it’s not reliable and requires more examination. Almost all of our daily talk is anecdotal talk. Just think about it: "she said this", "he said that", "I thought he did this", "I thought she did that". Most of this is not even first-hand, but just second-hand guesses. That should give you a hint on how much speculation and gossip there really is in our daily chatter.
opinions based on Research-based evidence
Real knowledge is based on research which means systemic investigation. Systemic is the key word here. Systemic means relating to a system. Knowledge is ascertainment of objective phenomena in the physical world which are put in their right context in our minds - into a system. This systemization of facts is done through the mind / intellect /mentality, and the results of that research work, of that systemization of phenomena, we call facts. Only when your mind does the research work, when it studies, then you can say you have knowledge of something. How many people actually do it on a daily basis?
Do you research your politicians before you make claims about your political enemies? Do you read reports from various institutions on climate change before you make your demands for action? Do you read statistics on immigration before you start complaining about immigrants? Do you actually read religious texts before you call yourself Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, etc.? Just ask yourself those questions.
The limits of knowledge in people's opinions
The point here is: most people don’t know a thing about anything apart from their daily work, family, friends and hobbies. We don’t know a damn thing about anything apart from that which we’ve been told or experienced. Only the fewest intelligent people actually do the research for themselves. Reality is complicated and even after reading one smart article or watching one smart video on Youtube on a topic you’re still not an expert. I’d like to call for intellectual modesty, for not being so self-important when it comes to actually knowing things.
Another question arises: is it a bad thing that an average person doesn’t know anything in most things? The surprising answer is: no. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s the right order of things. We can’t know everything because we are limited beings. Our expression in life will only be limited to certain physical and mental activities. We develop as individuals, and development proceeds from primitive to advanced. That’s why we can’t blame people for being intellectually simple, naive and primitive. They’re just people in development. We have the right to develop and that’s why you’ll meet people at different stages of personal development.
A stupid person has a right to be stupid, and an intelligent person has the right to be intelligent. That takes me back to my question at the beginning of this article: should you quarrel with a person of limited intellectual understanding when you know for sure they are being wrong? The answer is: in most cases no! If you have an argument with a person who has no capacity of being convinced of the truth in this very moment, then you have chosen the wrong battle. You’re just wasting your energy.
How to deal with "wrong" opinions
A person with limited capacities to understand won’t be able to see the subtleties and multitude of aspects to an issue, and will focus only on one aspect and generalize it into infinitude. In this way an intellectual dogma is created. That’s okay - that’s how people with limited understanding learn: dogma by dogma. Once people mature they won’t need the dogma and will develop more nuanced opinions. Until then, they need a simple dogma to hold on to to feel intellectually grounded in something.
Don’t take the dogmatic illusions from people away by trying to force your truthful opinion on them. To that you have no right, in the same way as they don’t have the right to impose their delusions on you. Just respect each other without having to convince each other or even arguing about topics. In such a situation the best thing you can do is to take it impersonally, and just listen to your counterpart. You will realise that to every dogma, to every illusion, to every lie there is a kernel of truth. Try to focus on that genuine kernel and think about ways of trying to make that kernel grow so that it blossoms into a flower of better understanding at a later time.
Ego is your enemy
It’s important that in every discussion, in every exchange you try to recognise whether your chat partner has the experience and knowledge or not. If they do, then quarrel friendly all day long in search of meaningful conclusions. If they don’t, respect their opinion and voice yours only if asked so. There’s some wisdom in not allowing people to talk about politics and religion in big gatherings. People have different opinions for various reasons and you don’t want to risk losing social harmony for the sake of being right when it’s not the right platform for you to do so. Choose your battles wisely.
In any case, just help people understand without vilifying them and without making yourself feel better. Respect their opinions. Never ever allow your ego to take part in this, otherwise you will always end up in pointless, quarrelsome exchanges just for the sake of feeling intellectually superior. That’s even more grotesque and contemptuous than genuine ignorance. Never forget that.
Knowledge: Facts vs. Opinions
Let me give you one last thing to munch on before this long article ends: there is a difference between facts and opinions and it’s difficult to ascertain facts. Facts are recognitions of objective physical phenomena through your senses and mind. Facts are the objective aspect of reality. Facts represent reality. It takes a dry mental analysis to understand issues and most people’s minds are too undeveloped to do that. We take care of our bodies, but we don’t take care of our mentality. That’s why people are lazy to analyse things, to actually know things because this requires mental work. And mental work drains your thought process if you haven’t done much of it before.
Opinions on the other hand represent what you think about facts. An opinion adds additional thoughts to facts and therefore tints your perception of those facts. And what you think about facts depends on your mental capacity, experience, values, wishes, desires - basically anything that makes you a human being. And these things are always given through your experience. You don’t need to perform much intellectual work to have that inner filter, It’s always there. That’s why it’s so much easier to have opinions on basically everything, although you don’t really have any real knowledge on anything.
In a nutshell: opinions represent the subjective aspect of your inner reality, the personal truth of your desires, fears, likes and dislikes, goals, memories etc. These in turn are based on your personal level of development. The more you develop, the more your inner life will be changing, and thus also your opinions.
Respect other people's opinions
This takes me back to my previous point: it’s complicated and every person is in development. There will be different opinions on anything at different stages of ignorance and knowledge. Respect everyone the way they are without judging them. With those who understand have conversations, to those who don’t understand be polite and offer them one bit of information at a time if asked so.
The only important thing is: don’t impose your opinions on each other, and treat each other as fellow human beings. Respect other people's opinions! Intellectual honesty on every trivial aspect of reality is not required for general harmony and basic human empathy. Those result from our noble feelings and emotions, not from our intellectual precision.
Let me finish this really long and strenuous elaboration with a wonderful question. Whatever you do and say, ask yourself this: Is it nice? Is it true? Is it helpful?