During a recent conversation, I told mentioned that the same pattern of reasoning used against homosexuality – the ruin of the nuclear family, society and human civilization as we know it – was used by early Mormon leaders Brigham Young, John Taylor and Orson Pratt in order to argue the evils of monogamy. A friend challenged me, suggesting I had only Wikipedia to back my arguments.
I was not only able to direct the friend to PDFs of the original documents in the BYU Archives, but I was also able to give historical context and argue my case on its own terms rather than simply use provocative statements.
Now, I’m definitely not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. But when exchanging opinions, it always seems to go better when both sides have informed arguments. It then becomes less of a stubborn debate and more of a challenging dialogue. An argument formed well is more than just persuasive rhetoric, something learned with vocal strength and tears from Beck and Limbaugh. Someone who can really form an informed opinion is someone who can contextualize and give you a source on the spot.
It seems easier and easier these days to get off the hook in the middle of what could be an interesting and challenging conversation by saying, “Well, it’s just an opinion.” But an talking about opinions is not the same thing as having an opinion. An opinion is not just the opposite of what the other side thinks, butting against a brick wall of more “opinion” substance. An opinion is built on at least surface research and a sentence that sounds almost like a thesis.
It may sound like more work than it’s worth, but in the age of Google, it’s actually really simple. The easiest way to get sources on a specific issue these days is to Wiki it and then scroll all the way down and look at the external sources and footnote links.
Another building block is to do some historical research on the topic you’re interested in. Folks have been talking about abortion and gun control long before you, and likely will continue to do so long after. It never hurts to do a bit of reading (maybe in that same Wiki article) on the history of the conversation, especially to have a sense of how both opinions have evolved and what social trends might be relevant to the current development of said issue.
It may not seem important to have an informed opinion about some of the casual discussions you have with your friends along the lines of what’s better, 30 Rock or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But having an informed opinion on what matters most to you is what’s important. In a moment of conversation when you want to truly connect with the other person and share your big ideas and interests, having sources and context will be invaluable.