I’ve been catching myself with a particularly bad habit — giving my opinion when I’m asked about something, even when I have no certain expertise or experience in it. Naturally, I asked myself why do I do this? Maybe it’s to keep the conversation going because if I just say “ I don’t know”, the conversation just stops. Most of the time, I find myself regurgitating things I’ve read or heard from another person.
There’s a time and place to give your opinion on things, but I’m curious about why I do it every single time. From my observations, it’s not just limited to myself (surprise, surprise).
I remembered in middle school, I would see all these kids with these bands on their wrists in which they would swear increased blood flow and iron production. When asked why or how did they know it worked, they replied because a friend or trusted adult would tell them so. I didn’t have the money to buy one but I also didn’t question their claims. It’s also to note that the band was quite expensive so I understand why people would try to convince themselves that this worked.
This was the powerband. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d be scammed into believing stupid things.
That’s where it gets dangerous when you just give an opinion or reiterate what you’ve heard because it may become true for others. If enough people believe it, it’ll become a norm and that’s where it can start to really hurt people. I believe it’s important to consider that not every single opinion needs to be given and we should test each opinion with doubt and curiosity.
The illusion of certainty and expertise
Status is something we’ve always chased as a species and it comes easier when someone views us as all-knowing. Just imagine being that person that seems to always say the right thing and whose domain of knowledge is so vast, you would probably go to them every time. You would further their reputation through word of mouth and increase their influence.
Imagine being that person, you would feel incredible with all of the prestige and respect given to you. Granted if you’ve done the leg work then you probably deserve all of it. But these people are rare and often limit themselves to only other quality people. Dealing with people that waste your time is complicated and annoying. The best people are often limited for a reason.
I find that most of the time, people with no skin in the game are often speaking out of ignorance or just regurgitating bits from what they’ve heard or read. Such people are afraid of looking stupid instead of being right.
Around 2008, my parents were giving me advice about how terrible investing in stocks was. They were telling me how risky it is and how you could lose everything. Granted the recession was hitting everyone hard and it further validated their point. But that was the most opportunistic time for me to invest, some of the best company’s stock value was so low that if I just bought it and held it, the returns would be amazing. My parents had no experience in investing, but they did watch the news and listened to their friends.
My first mistake was not doing my own research on how stocks worked so I believed them. I didn’t have the resolve to see if such events were for the short term or the long term. When you take someone’s word at the forefront, make sure they are credible, and even if they are, be doubtful and continue to learn more so you can make your own decision.
Good questions to ask are what makes their opinion valuable and is their opinion worth listening to.
Sometimes, it’s hard to gauge in the short term, especially if that person is correct and you’re more likely to convince yourself that they’re trustworthy. For these situations, you can tell who is legit versus who is a charlatan when you ask them to take a deep dive into a subject and explain their thought process.
Charlatans often spout general information without any specificity. In fact, they’ll start to get upset if you ask them to explain further. Even if they are a knowledgeable person, you ideally want someone that doesn’t lead with their ego because that person will honestly tell you “I don’t know” if they actually don’t know. A presumptuous guess for some clout is never worth listening to.
It gets harder when it’s someone you’re close to like a family member. You don’t want to damage the relationship by calling them out or stroking their ego. You’ll have to determine if it’s worth playing all of these games or if would it be better to not even start it. Remember that people hate to be wrong and will turn a simple opinion into a strong-clad belief to protect their pride.
So what? Just be boring
It wouldn’t be fun if people admitted they didn’t know something and kept their opinions to themselves. In fact, I’d argued without opinions, it wouldn’t lead to curiosity and the discovery of truth. This means there must be a balance of opinions AND the desire to test those opinions.
An opinion with no desire to test it is like an empty calorie. It does nothing to nourish the mind and the soul while giving the illusion that you are full. If you truly seek gain, you’ll have to go through the process to see if your or others’ opinions are true. It’ll be more work but it’ll be more “nutritious”.
In an ideal world, when someone gives their opinion and if you ask them if they’re positive about the validity of it, they question it and invite you to join them if what they’re saying is true. Curiosity will benefit both people. But that requires you to change your mind and determine that your opinions aren’t always true. Such humility is rare for many but it’s the path that will give us the most gain. I’d rather be wrong once or twice than the rest of my life.
Opinions don’t always have to be given and there isn’t a need for us to be married to those opinions. Once we understand that things change and so can we, life isn’t a game of black and white. By saying “I don’t know” doesn’t mean it’s the end game. It just means you haven’t arrived at the answer yet and it’s worth looking into. The old saying of opinions are like buttholes, everyone has and it usually stinks is true. People will just say things to make it seem like they know something but mostly it’s not their own opinion. It’s definitely more worthwhile to put in more effort so we can say it’s through trials and errors that have led to our own independent thinking.
But that’s just my opinion.
*Check out my last article on birthdays is just another day*