Why Do We Get Offended by Differing Opinions?

In today’s political climate, you’re pretty much condemned for thinking like an individual. Liberals and Conservatives overestimate the extremity of their opponents’ viewpoints, denigrating, deprecating, and disparaging until it is no longer the argument that matters, but the person who subscribes to that argument.

Extend ideological gridlock into the White House, and no laws ever get passed and everybody’s always arguing with each other because they’re so concerned about defending what they believe in rather than doing what’s in the best interest of the country. This begs the question, politics aside, why do we feel so persecuted over differing opinions when that’s all they are: opinions different from ours?

To be human is to make simplified judgments about reality based on known and unknown facts. (You don’t hear birds or dogs expressing to you that they think you should lose weight because you can barely walk for 10 minutes without losing your breath.) Moreover, we hold our opinions very close to our individual identities, so much that we’re willing to fight or die to validate them. Football fans, for instance, get into physical altercations over the teams they are most emotionally attached to, while disgruntled voters take to the streets to protest against failing government policies that have adverse effects on their children’s and children’s children’s futures.

With that said, the ability to opine is synonymous with the human experience, largely in part of the increased cognitive processing power backed by the thousands of years of our evolutionary history. But contrary to the notion that opinions are immune to change, opinions are pliable, meaning that they can go from one extreme to the other through exposure to new information. Even if we would prefer to stay sheathed in a bubble that’s isolated from what we least want to hear.

Consider this amazing quote by Carl Rogers, which perfectly encapsulates the point I’m trying to make in this article, “If you really understand a person, if you are willing to enter his private world, you run the risk of being changed yourself. You might see it his way, you might find yourself influenced in your attitudes or personality. This risk of being changed is one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face.” In other words, what we fear most about differing opinions is not that they are unsound — it’s that they actually make sense, even though, at a conscious level, they are out-of-touch with what you believe ought to be right, true, sound, and correct.

Part of Rogers’s quote, however, was partly inaccurate. There is a certain magic of opinions in that, if they are presented in a thoughtful and tactful way, they can add to and modify what you already believe in (to your benefit). As such, the risk of transforming our attitudes doesn’t have to be one of the most frightening prospects most of us can face, but the most exhilarating. For someone who questions and challenges our opinions judiciously, and without the need for condescension, is a person worth befriending. Otherwise, conversations with him or her would just be boring all of the time — you would be reaffirming what you two already believe in, drifting further away in your little bubble. That doesn’t sound very productive to me.

So, go out and disagree with somebody. Disagree with everybody if you have to. Because apart from our opinions, there is not much else to set us apart as human beings.    


Categories: Society & Culture

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