We have all heard that opinions are a dime a dozen. Nevertheless, when we hear certain people at certain times express themselves, we do not recognize their view as only an opinion. For example Kaitlyn had this experience with art critics.
As Kaitlyn, an artist, waited for critics to review her work, she became more and more anxious. Would they like her paintings? Understand her vision? Take her seriously? To her, their comments meant the supreme declaration of her worthiness as an artist. She would listen intently to what they said.
They arrive and look at her exhibit:
“But what does this mean?” one asked.
Kaitlyn’s stomach churned.
“If I were you, I’d paint this color here; fill that space,” another said.
“You should do this; you should do that because…”
“I’d like to see this theme played out more…”
Her energy dropped, deflating her enthusiasm. Her work was no good. Who would want it? Her abilities and confidence, she was sure, rested on their conclusions. She heard their criticism as the only viewpoint in the world.
The challenge for me was to get Kaitlyn to see that, regardless of how the critics sounded to her, their words represented their opinions. They, as all of us, had only their viewpoint to offer, not absolute truth.
“Critics talk as though no viewpoint but theirs counts,” I told her. “The fact is that each expresses his or her sentiments. Considering their comments as indisputable crimps your perspective.”
Kaitlyn listened quietly. I wondered if I was getting through.
“If certainty is fixed and without doubt and opinion is open to question and varies from person to person, how do you reconcile the two?”
“I can’t,” she said, shrugging in confusion. “They don’t fit.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “They’re incompatible. The twain shall never meet.”
I wanted her to do more than understand the difference between certainty and opinion. I wanted her to apply this distinction in her everyday interactions. I emphasized that certainty is loaded with emotion as if it is an actual and true declaration.
“When you talk from certainty,” I told her, “ you carry an attitude of absolute assurance in God-given messages. You don’t recognize that everyone has opinions. You convery your message with forceful conviction and persuasion.”
She leaned forward as she listened intently. I could see that she was considering my words. Clearly no one had clarified these concepts for her.
“Opinion, on the other hand,” I said, “ may be defined as a viewpoint, sometimes probable sometimes not. Another way to think of opinion is as a belief or conclusion you hold with confidence yet it is unsubstantiated by definitive fact.”
I had to define these two concepts because their meanings are often confused and seen as the same.
“When you are talking from certainty, you’re investing a lot of energy,” I said. “You can feel that the topic is emotionally charged. When you’re airing an opinion you’re investing [expending] less emotion.”
That’s when Kaitlyn realized that she was treating these critics as though they were the greatest authorities in art proclaiming absolute judgements. Her homework was to remind herself that opinion was the name of the game. Critics were individuals verbalizing their personal impressions. Each reviewer voiced his or her own personal preferences and viewpoints, not the ultimate in visual expression. She relaxed. Her confidence returned.
This experience motivated her to expand her practice field. A few weeks later, for instance, in a meeting, colleagues discussed strategies for a project. Voices rose, tensions grew. Then it was Kaitlyn’s turn to talk.
“I listened to your views and opinions,” she said. “Now I’ll give you mine.”
With that she explained her plan. She explained her take on the problem and offered her solution, knowing that, at least, she understood the difference between her opinion and an inevitable certainty. She knew that she wasn’t delivering absolutes, but choices. And choices she preferred.
“Differentiating opinions from certainties gave me strength and helped me to anchor (orient) myself,” she told me later. “Then I wasn’t obliged or bound to agree or disagree with any of my colleagues. Nor was I caught in the morass of defending my viewpoint as if it were the only one on earth.”
Why had Kaitlyn confused opinion with certainty? Why was Kaitlyn caught up in the pursuit of certainty? What compels us to look outside ourselves for our personal answers? What makes us think there’s a formula for our emotional well-being? Let’s examine each of these questions to further separate their meanings. Disconnecting them will help you deal with other people and with yourself.
Why had Kaitlyn confused opinion and certainty?
Kaitlyn functioned in same way as those around her. Neither her friends or colleagues distinguished between opinion and certainty. Whether talking about art, music, child rearing or the working mom dilemma, their words and manner took on aura of absolute assuredness. They credited their beliefs as true. So did Kaitlyn.
Listening and working among like-minded people gave her no contrast. They did not noticed their unchanging, consistent mental stance. They, too, were unaware of the mental place that kept them talking certainties. But this is so for most people. If you listen to people, you will recognize that many talk as if they have privileged information that amounts to the absolute truth. Their views are the correct ones. They hold their views as sacred property and God help anyone who differs or tries to change their mind.
When I first asked Kaitlyn if she heard herself or her friends expressing absolutes, she had not considered the possibility. She confused certainty and opinion. Not until she learned to discriminate between the two could she recognize and release herself from the hold this confusion had over her.
Why most people act this way is not a mystery. Our parents talked certainties. Also, their parents, our grandparents, talked certainties. We absorbed their ways. As we learned in Chapter?, each generation absorbs from the previous ones. Need for certainties is apart of our western culture, part of many other cultures, too.
Why was Kaitlyn caught up in the pursuit of certainty?
Kaitlyn guards against unpleasant surprises. Few people like to be caught unawares. People instinctively move away from prolonged disruption, chaos and pain. Instead, we all seek freedom from doubt, a security and confidence that things are as we see them. [a stable assuredness]
Listen to people around you and you will recognize the theme. “Are you sure?” your neighbor asks. “Are you certain?” your friend asks. Wherever you turn, you will hear the quest. We all want to nail down guarantees.
This pursuit of certainty begins in childhood. For instance, when Kaitlyn was a girl, her mother tucked her into bed and kissed her goodnight. Kaitlyn felt reassured and comforted. Whenever distressed, Kaitlyn would look to Mother or her equivalent for solace and safety. We acted similarly.
When we were little we too looked to the tall ones for direction. They told us what to do and when to do it. We carried this habit of looking to others for answers into adulthood, despite the fact that now we belong to the tall group, despite the fact that we pay our own bills, cast our own votes, cook food to feed our children.
One woman put it this way: “I go from one guru to another, searching for the formula for how to be me. The books and professionals must carry the secret to my happiness and success. I watch other women flirt, dress, advance in school and career. They flaunt sleeker bodies and appear more confident and less stressed than I. They hold clues of how I should be. I need to copy their nifty ways. I’ll adopt pieces of their behaviors into the puzzle that will show the world the new, transformed me. If I keep looking, the person to conduct my life will appear. I look outside myself to a relationship, a career or a perfect parent. Someone must know more about me than I know about myself. I look and look for that someone to tell me what to do.”
What compels us to look outside ourselves for our personal answers?
The tell-me-what-to-do habit is a piece of mental conditioning. By adulthood, this habit is so ingrained that it feels usual, so usual we hardly notice ourselves listening for instructions from mentors, counselors, celebrities and CEOs who expound upon how to be a good wife, a successful career woman, an unflappable mother. We look outside ourselves for anger management, improved sexual allure and weight control, we look outside ourselves for internal control. This habit sets us up to search for external answers to our internal turmoil, as if someone else knows us better than we do, as if there is a sure-fire, absolute solution for living a relatively tranquil and satisfying life.
What makes us think there’s a formula for our emotional well-being?
Formulas surround us. 2+2=4. The earth orbits around the sun. We learned these facts in school. We also learned that these facts were obtained through observation, hypothesis, testing and conclusion – the scientific method.
Also during our formative years each of us took to sleeping on our back or tummy, on the left or right side of the bed. We chose one flavor of ice cream over another, chocolate over pineapple. Perhaps we loved softball and avoided basketball. We hung out with certain classmates, but not others. These actions were not facts. They required no formulas. They were preferences, as insignificant as whether we buttered our toast on one side or another.
We were living the actions, not analyzing them.
No one distinguished between facts and preferences, between the investigative method and personal inclinations. For instance, in biology class we observed polliwogs and frogs, caterpillars and butterflies. Similar methods were used in our psychology classes. With stop watches, questionnaires and experiments, we calibrated the behavior of fellow students. We saw parents and teachers consult graphs, charts, and schedules to tell them what to do and when to do it. From sports strategies to homework schedules, child rearing to housework, the scientific method infiltrated our daily lives. We were conditioned to believe a formula applied to our mental and emotional well-being.
What works in algebra and physics, however, won’t give the recipe [answers] for how you should behave today. I realize this seems basic. Nevertheless, our conditioning [to believe that formulas will relieve our emotional suffering] is stronger than our logic and reason. We toss off cliches: No quick fix; no instant remedies; we’re all different. [Having instant coffee does not mean that there are instant solutions. We realize and give lip service to the notion that humans do not function from equations and recipes.] Still, we seek out quick, easy answers. We want the prescription for how to behave and live our lives.
If each of us perceives the world from our personal vista and if each vista is held as the true one, then there are more than six billion people operating as if they have the right way to live. If so many people claim to hold the supreme reality [and the ultimate meaning and value of existence (the dictionary definition of truth)], I must conclude there is not one.
The problem, as Kaitlyn discovered, is that people talk with an aura of certainty, as though their commentary were the ultimate. When you force an opinion as hard truth you end up aggravated, frustrated, out-of-joint, possibly alienating the other person.
Individual differences are far greater than similarities between people. There are no duplicates of yours, mine or any one else’s mental make-up. Our emotional selves cannot and do not conform to prescriptions or templates. Human behavior takes on as many responses, approaches, methods as there are people.
Consider the statistical probabilities. Multiply [characteristics] the variables inherent in the world’s population — millions of cultures, 95 years of life [longevity], 2 genders, hundreds of thousands of languages, tens of thousands of tribes. Every time you add a variable the number becomes larger than a billion – into the trillions. The arithmetic boggles the mind with infinitesimal number of opinions at any given moment. You can see that applying this fact, alone, would alter how you hear people talk. How you process their information and what you do with it redirects your mental course and, thus, your behavior.
I can almost hear you say, “That’s true. But my husband and best friend talk as though they’re right. They get mad when I don’t buy into their views. What can I do?”
Here’s a simple maneuver to extricate yourself from these confrontations. When someone foists upon you their personal certainty, reply with, “I believe you believe that.” This maneuver extricates you from taking on and owning another’s belief, as if it is yours, too.
On our road to emotional self-management, we want to adapt to the fact that there are 6 billion plus sets of opinions. We want to train ourselves to hear individual viewpoints, rather than absolutes. Your task is to develop the habit of noting [marking] what people say as opinion. Start by
• Reminding yourself, repeatedly, that others’ comments are opinions.
• Their conclusions are judgements and estimations, not hard and fast facts.
• During conversations, remember that this person speaks his or her conclusions.
• In response, practice saying aloud, “I hear your opinion.” In so doing, you will recall how to hear the comments of others.
• When you are asked for your thoughts, views, or when you contribute an idea, preface
your remarks with: “My opinion is… ”
It is important to keep the following in mind. You are saying these words to remind you that your are speaking your personal conclusion, not a God-given absolute. This is a self-reminding exercise, not a get-them-to-behave-right agenda. The purpose of this exercise is to shift away from listening for and to certainties and turn toward hearing opinions.
Pursuit of certainties is the habit of searching for the template, prescription or formula for the right behavior of how to be you; how to fit in; how to be liked; how not to get zapped
Looking-for-Certainties topics are endless. Here are a few.
• to marry or not
• take husband’s name or keep maiden name
• have children or not? with or without spouse?
• this house or that apartment?
• a stressful high-paying career or a more relaxed limited-income lifestyle.
Or smaller topics: purchase (All or Tide)
move to vignettes ???Current example: invited to a wedding at a destination that would cost me a chunk of change. At that time my income was limited and my expenses were high. I wanted to go. My friends and family wanted me to go. But, incurring travel expenses was not in my best interests, was not good for me. I could have charged my credit card. Then when the bill came I would have scrimped and saved and worried. My focus was on pleasing them, doing what they wanted me to do. How could I disappoint them? Lo and behold, once I made the decision to do what was best for me – not to go – I told my daughters. I felt a whole lot better.????
Miscellaneous for certainties/opinion
[Formula =prescription, recipe, established method, equation, rule principle. Recipe = a cup of x, a pint of y, a touch of this a pinch of that. Mix. Bake and out comes Z.]
In fact, what they voice and think are primarily opinions. [“The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion” (Elizabeth Drew, taken from the dictionary). ]
Looking for formulas drops you into the dilemma of choosing a right thing. A most frequent question is “What should I do?” What will be right?” Confusion reigns because there is not one answer to the question. Trade-offs are inevitable. If you find yourself in this quandary, use the following exercise.
When you can’t decide what to do, write a list of pros and cons. Whichever outweighs the other wins. I f they are equal, your choice is a wash, i.e. The trade-off balances out and you can go either way.
To describe the world is not to change it.
To describe thought-voices is not to acquire a belief about thought-voices. To describe thought-voices does not require a firm conviction as to the reality or the goodness of the thinking.
To describe thought-voices is not to alter how you respond to yours.
Recognize when you are responding differently to your thought-voices, not obeying your thought-voices.
Thought-voices tell you to listen to people for how you are doing. If people say you’re fine, that signals…If they you are lousy, that signals…. Thought-voices telling you to listen to these messages are sabotage voices. They stop you from clearing out your mental clutter.
Ilana is trying to get reader to drop this habit of listening to others for the truth of how the reader should be. There is no entity outside of you to guarantee your well-being. You are the only one able to cut down on self-victimization.
Do I want to [Insert from Others2.wpd = I’m the center. I dictate. I’ll get mad without my telling them what to do. My impressions determine what should happen. ] into truth chapter?
inclination = bend or tilt: a tendency toward a certain condition or character: a characteristic disposition to prefer or favor one thing over another
propensity = innate inclination, a tendency, disposition, preference.