Have you ever asked for someone’s advice or opinion on something only to discover it’s not necessarily what you wanted to hear? I’d be willing to bet you’ve also heard opinions you didn’t ask for from people, too – and that they haven’t always been flattering or complimentary.
I’ve talked with people who have had their day or even an entire week ruined somehow by a negative comment from another. I’ve seen it affect relationships and even fuel personal grudges that are held for a long time.
Since I usually write about things which have happened in my own life and struggles that I’ve had within me, I can tell you I’m sharing from personal experience in this area, too.
In the article “Personal Reflections on Perspective”, I covered the fact that we all have our own perspectives and how they are all different. In fact, if you haven’t already read it, it would be worth reading first and then coming back to this article.
The Stuff Opinions Are Made Of
A person’s opinion is just that; their opinion. They own it. A person can change their opinion if they choose to. But, since changing our own beliefs it the most difficult type of change, many people will hang onto a certain opinion for a large part of their lives, some even take it to their death bed.
All in all, opinion is made up of 2 ingredients:
- Experience – things which have happened to or around us or other we know, things we’ve learned, read, heard, done, etc.
- Perspective – The view, spin or story we give the experiences, above. The lens or filter we apply to things.
It’s important to remember that we all interpret facts and the experiences we have had in our own individual ways, using perspective. So, our perspectives are where our opinions come from.
The Difference Between Fact And Opinion
A fact is: the sky appears blue. An opinion would be something like your new sister-in-law having a strange sense of humor.
Fact is based on something which can be proven and is inarguable. While you may think your sister-in-law’s odd sense of humor is inarguable, it’s still just your perspective (even if it’s shared by many other people), because someone, somewhere may think she has a wonderfully charming sense of humor! The “odd sense of humor” is a label we attach to facts like, she finds certain things funny which we don’t.
However, the sky remains blue because, in a nutshell, the way Earth’s atmosphere scatters certain wavelengths of light more than others.
So, while facts may not change, the interpretation of those facts will usually be different from one person to another and that is where we get so many different opinions. The beautiful part is that our different opinions (based on those perspectives) are a big part of what make us so unique and individual.
None of this means an opinion different from our own, which isn’t immoral or hurting someone, is necessarily wrong or bad.
As a side note, I’m usually wary of a person who seems to have no opinion on anything. To me, this seems to be a warning sign of a deeper issue having to do with commitment or the avoidance of conflict. While I’m not going to dive into that here, I can easily say I have more respect for personalities who are quite opinionated – even when I don’t always agree with those opinions.
Healthy Perspective Versus Becoming A Wreck
Have you ever felt upset when someone tells you the shirt you bought last weekend isn’t your color? Does it hurt your friendship or feelings when someone close to you takes a different political stand? Has it ever ruined your day when a coworker didn’t like the way you worded a report? We’ve all probably experienced something similar to these examples.
I’ve allowed myself to be hurt or offended by another person’s opinion when I mistake it for a personal insult, even though the comment was never intended as personal or insulting. I’ve hung on to negative feelings and even engaged in challenging arguments with another person over an opinion that they’ve expressed …and I can assure you that the outcome has never been positive when I’ve reacted that way.
Nobody wins in an argument – especially when it’s a difference of opinion. It’s our inherent nature and ability to justify our opinions in a disagreement. Great effort is required to see another perspective when we are emotionally tense.
There have been times when I’ve allowed myself to become stressed about the fact someone doesn’t agree with me. Once I finally took the time to reflect on the situation, realize the other person is entitled to their opinion and that their opinion didn’t define me as a person, I felt clearer inside of myself. I relaxed and found there was actually nothing to vindicate or defend.
If wanting to be accepted is natural and feeling the need for approval is normal, when does it become unhealthy? When we allow it to be.
If we allow our focus on approval to get to the point of seeking another’s opinion in order to feel good about ourselves, it can be devastating to hear a negative opinion. It also keeps us from strengthening self-confidence and making personal progress. It goes back to relying on another person for our happiness which in itself, is really unhealthy.
A healthy perspective would be one where we are open to hearing another’s opinion and recognizing it for just what it is – an opinion. By allowing that person the freedom to express their thoughts or feelings and maintaining our own freedom to understand, we open the door to a much broader realization of where that person is coming from, as well as the chance to learn things about ourselves.
An Opportunity for Growth
What benefit comes from personalizing another person’s opinion? None, from what I’ve learned.
It’s so much easier to live with less stress when we can remember another person’s opinion is only their own opinion – and let it go. It is a part of them, based on their experiences, what they’ve learned and the perspective they have within them.
We can always gain a greater understanding of someone by having an interest in where they are coming from. Usually, people are open to talking about the facts or experiences they’ve had which have led to the forming of their opinions. Quite often, we can learn something new which will cause our own perspectives to grow.
If we can set pride and ego aside, we can gain an entirely different perspective of ourselves. We can get a deeper sense of ways in which we could change for the better by understanding how another person sees us without taking it as a personal blow.
It’s possible to experience enrichment through your effort to understand the building blocks which have made up another’s opinion. This type of mindset prevents emotionally defensive walls from going up and can even strengthen a relationship through understanding & acceptance.
There is always hope and opportunity for personal growth through humility and a patient desire to understand the perspectives of other people. Best of all, there’s a certain peace that comes by just allowing other’s to own their opinions and knowing that we are not defined by what someone else thinks of us.
Originally published January 25, 2011. Updated May 29, 2015.