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Opinions


As part of my Buddhist path I've become less attached to my opinions, and even less attached to having opinions at all.

By this I mean -- I don't feel the need to have opinions on every matter that the media, my immediate surroundings, or my friends put before me.

I'm also less attached to the desire to convince other people that my own opinion is correct, and less attached to the desire that other people "tolerate" or "accept" the way I choose to live my own life.

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Some people have opinions that we categorize as "religious" or "spiritual". These opinions usually cover topics like life-after-death, heaven & hell, God & Satan, reincarnation, the nature of good and evil, and various moral commandments. Under the modern system, in which we at least pretend that church, state, and science are all separate modalities, most religious opinions are precisely those opinions which can neither be proven nor disproven by any widely agreed-upon set of evidentiary rules.

Because religious opinions are most resistant to proof, they usually resemble a utopia that the opinion-holder thinks would exist, if only everybody else were to believe the same things she does. And, in the case of heaven, that utopia will exist when all the believers arrive there together, after all the non-believers are banished.

Political opinions can also derive from utopian desires.

If only everybody would follow this set of rules, not that set of rules, then we'd have plenty of good in the world, and a minimum of bad. That's the idea. Unfortunately, reality is always more complex and messier than any one person's (or organization's) utopian vision.

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Some religious and political opinions do derive from observation and reason. For example, if teenage pregnancy rates are rising (which most people consider a bad thing), then a reasonable observer might address the problem by teaching teens to stop having sex. Once they are no longer teens, then they can safely have sex, because then they won't be contributing to the teenage pregnancy rate.

So, an opinion is born. The way to address Problem X is to stop people from doing Behavior Y.

But ... why do people do Behavior Y? In the case of teenage sex, they do it because it feels good. Most people spend their lives trying to maximize their pleasure while minimizing their pain. They might be mistaken about how to do that, but that is still their aim. To the extent that one person's pleasure causes another person's pain ... you'll have a clash of opinions, and you'll have difficulty finding a utopian solution.

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Well, not every opinion is deserving of the label "utopian" ... some opinions are completely garden-variety, about things like how often to mow the lawn, how often to vacuum the floor, how often to call one's mother, etc.

But some people confuse their opinions on these matters with The Way Things Ought To Be. As though there were a right way and a wrong way, instead of a your way and a my way.

I guess that walking the Buddhist path reinforces the understanding that opinions are just thoughts bouncing around inside somebody's head. Opinions are not reality. Opinions are desires.


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