On Opinions or the Importance of Remembering you can Surprise Yourself…
Opinions (even those that you have about yourself) can, and should, change.
About four months ago, I started this strange and semi-painful journey into jogging. And now, watching it snow on Halloween, I’m planning on a short two-miler at some point today.
The construction of that sentence, on its own, is notworthy — snow on Halloween, to me, is probably not its most surprising aspect; rather it’s that I’d be considering jogging in snow, and furthermore refer to a two-mile jog as “short.”
In the jogging game, though, it is short. There are lunatics who run 100 miles, toenails popping off, feet bleeding, pushing themselves to the ever-elusive finish line. We know this cognitively, but we imagine that they’re capable of so much more than we are. In truth, there could be something to a capacity for pain that not everybody has. And, seriously, 100-miles could be detrimental to one’s health (the first marathoner [a little more than four times smaller than 100 miles] died).
But in reality, we hold these opinions about ourselves that limit who we can be— we say that we’re incapable, we resign ourselves to indifference about our own capabilities. Marianne Williamson, a now entertaining Democratic presidential candidate, had a beautiful way of encapsulating this sentiment, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
The limiting factor here is often in our opinions of ourselves — in whether or not we believe that we’re capable of something, even before we start it.
That’s not the most detrimental factor, though. Rather, it’s how deeply we refuse to change our opinions. Let me explain.
There has been a lot of coverage on American’s inability to distinguish facts from opinions (see the Pew Research Center polling below). And we seem to believe that our beliefs are as important as facts, or supersede them (see the flat earthers as an example).
When we treat opinions as facts or beliefs as immutable, it creates a deeply problematic sitation — one where we don’t change our opinions, about anything. Rather, we accept new information as reinforcing on our original viewpoints. When new data supersedes the old, we ignore it or contradict it. We dig in. We refuse to accept that perhaps we can run two miles (in the snow, on Halloween), even though we’ve never tried.
This flies in the face of progress and history. Because as history teaches us, the society most able to adapt is the one that wins. The European countries didn’t invent gunpowder, but when they took it from the East, they became dominant superpowers, creating guns, artillery, etc. (Before this, Eastern empires — from Atila the Hun to Genghis Khan—disrupted and destroyed the strongest empires in the west).
Adaptation is a profound process —it has enabled humans to live on Antarctica and Jamaica. It allows us to overcome circumstances and difficulties. And, it allows us, after a few months of trying, to run 2 miles in the snow, even when we don’t know it’s originally possible.
What are you capable of? What is this country capable of? If we allow our current opinions to fall, about ourselves, about each other, what will take their place?
The most important aspect of an opinion is that it can, and should, change. The group that’s been best able to adapt and allow opinions to change with experimentation and new information are our scientific communities. And look at how much progress we’ve had over the past 200 years due to a rigorous scientific method. I have a device in my pocket that is more powerful than the computers that landed a man on the moon (see below a pretty cool infographic from Business Insider that digs more into this).
Some of these questions are about identity, but perhaps we should take a moment to let ourselves dissolve, and instead look for the truth.