What is an opinion?

         The Oxford Dictionary defines opinion as “a thought or belief about something or someone.” If I tell you I am a Democrat, you immediately have an opinion about me because of the label Democrat. But the label is not the person. It is important to remember that each of us has many labels applied to us, any could be wrong depending on the opinion that comes to mind when you hear the label.

     The Webster Dictionary defines opinion as “a view, a judgement, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.” An example of this in the southwest is immigration. Each of us has in our mind a judgment about immigration and immigrants.  Webster offers this other definition “a belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge.”

     These definitions highlight distinct ways of looking at opinion- thought, a judgement, or a belief about something or someone not based in fact. An excellent example of this is that democrats and republicans can’t agree on what the facts are around the Russian hacking in the last election.

Where do your opinions come from?

     We form our opinions in many ways. They come from our parents, our friends, the media, school experiences, values and expectations. An opinion about a topic or label is your projection of what is in your mind. Alfred Korzybski, an expert in semantics said” a map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.” This is a very important concept for us to realize- our opinions are not necessarily reality and they only have value if they are like the reality they represent. Because of this, we should always question our opinions by trying to clarify another person’s facts about their position before we disagree because we have an alternate opinion. You should first search for those things that you can agree on before assuming you can’t.

Discerning fact from opinion?

     fact is a statement that is true, objectively verified, or proven. A fact is true no matter what, while an opinion is a judgment or view. So how do we tell whether statements we hear are fact or opinion? Well, we ask ourselves several questions, such as.

         1. Is independently  proved or showed to be true.

         2.  Can you see it happen.

         3. Is it verified by witnesses, manuscripts or documents.

         There are also certain words that will help you identify an opinion vs a fact.

     Words that can help you Identify Opinions:

Biased Words (bad, worse, worst, good, better, best, worthwhile, worthless, etc.)           

Qualifiers (all, always likely, never, might seem, possibly, probably, should, etc.)

         Unfortunately, what makes it harder is that sentences can be a mix of opinion and fact. Voters voted down the amendment, possibly because of racial issues. It is a fact that they voted the amendment down and an opinion that it was because of racial issues.

5 steps to forming enlightened opinions.

     To form enlightened opinions that are yours and not coming from somewhere else, you need to first question your initial response and give thought to developing an enlightened opinion.

     1. You need to teach yourself to think critically. Critical thinking means absorb the facts and other important information such as the source of the information and then critically determine your opinion.

     2. Ask yourself who enjoys the benefits the statement or position. So you need to know the slant of your news sources.

     3.  Question the source. Many of our sources make a statement as if they were facts, but they are only that person’s opinion as to what he or she wants us to believe.

     4. Look for alternative sources so you can check the opinion of one against the other. Ask yourself is this source credible. When I have checked in the past have, I determined that what they are telling me is correct.

     5. And last, recognize your biases. These are a barrier to critical thinking. We all have them. We don’t recognize what they are. Until we do, we ask ourselves what they said and why is my instant opinion contrary to the one expressed. Perhaps I have a bias because I think of that person as a (label) rather than exploring deeply what they mean.

And lastly keep in mind this quote from Thomas Jefferson I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as a cause for withdrawing from a friend.