False: “You have the right to your own opinion.”
There are a few big obstacles to healthy discussion. I’d like to invalidate a few to start off a good year of student opinions.
Personally, I come across the biggest obstacle when I get in an argument and the other person becomes frustrated, saying, “Well, everyone’s got a right to their own opinion.” The assertion here is the cheap baloney. Here’s why.
First, it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t provide new insight into the conversation and, in fact, simply changes the subject to something it’s not about. Second, having an opinion hardly seems like a right. A right is usually defined (check any dictionary) as a privilege that comes with a duty, and a duty is something that comes with obligations.
Who or what would obligate me to warrant someone their opinion? Perhaps respect (insofar as an argument shouldn’t end in emotional, linguistic, or physical violence) but not much else.
Therefore, it is untrue to believe you have the right to your own opinion. You don’t, and even if you did it wouldn’t matter.
Now, given that I’ve just argued that having an opinion isn’t a right, I’ve still only argued my opinion. But in doing so, I’ve hopefully done a few things that help any opinion be something worth arguing successfully.
For one thing, an opinion without facts or evidence is like a computer without an operating system. When you say, “Obama is the new Hitler,” without grounded reasoning, it is similar to referencing the Bible, Wikipedia and Glenn Beck. These are examples of unfounded substitutes for an authoritative source like a birth certificate. So avoid exaggerations that can’t be proven with certainty.1
Be open to criticism and the possibility that you will change your mind. I used to love The Dark Knight and after reading the comic books for two years, I argue it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to Batman. (Yes, worse than the nipple suits in Batman and Robin.)
Also remember some things are simply a matter of taste and some things aren’t. I prefer The Ataris to Don Henley singing “The Boys of Summer” and ultimately that’s about what I enjoy, not which song is perfect. But no matter how much I love “Careless Whisper,” it’s a pretty bad song, whether George Michael or Seether is singing it.
Here in the opinions page of your student newspaper, you should feel welcome to engage in a place students can have multi-dimensional discussions regarding campus issues that may not reach one unified consensus but are unified in understanding.
We may not have rights to our opinions, but we have access to facts and reasoning that we can use to learn more about our world and each other – which, I would argue, includes obligations and privileges that make attending a university a right.
So here’s to a year of student community, understanding and opinions!
1. Instead, look for ways to show how Obama is using cinema, the press and pseudo-science to encourage patriotism. Next, show where he blames the financial crises on immigrants, homosexuals and communists – and is against capitalism and world trade – saying these groups and ideas threaten society and nuclear family. Finally, demonstrate that he wants to permanently rid America of those things. Then you’d have a basic but valid argument to tag with a neat, short analogy like “Obama is the new Hitler.”