January 29, 2009

Fricking Opinions

It's really easy for me to like people. Quite often, I'll meet someone and immediately feel some sort of connection. Sometimes I even go as far as picturing the two of us laughing together over a cup of coffee while divulging our thoughts on improving the world. (I'm exaggerating...kind of). This whole fantasy goes quite well until they actually open their mouth. And then I'm like "ahhh crap...this isn't going to work."

You must have had this type of experience. You're on a date. He's cute. He's charming. He makes you laugh. He's intelligent. You stare dreamily into his eyes. And then he says something like "Bill O'Reilly truly is the source of all wisdom." And at that moment the turn table stops. Silence. And you find yourself slightly cocking your head to the side and thinking "ehhhhh." And at that moment, the sparks are gone.

Opinions. Fricking opinions! They ruin it EVERY time. It's so easy to get along until the Vegetarian discusses meat with the friend who is a Carnivore, the uber-conservative realizes her friend's hero is Michael Moore, the housewife starts discussing family values with the working mom, the pro-lifer starts talking about abortion with the pro-choicer, and so on. And then, a perfectly lovely conversation quickly turns heated. And very often both sides stare back at each other with complete disapproval, thinking "I can't believe you ACTUALLY believe that."

I have one friend who vows not to date Republicans. Shocked by her claim, I asked her, "but, if you meet a guy at the bar and he asks you out, how the heck do you know what political party he belongs to?!" "Oh that's simple," she responded. "I just make sure on the first date the conversation turns to abortion, gay marriage, and his economic theories." Now, THAT makes for an "interesting" first date (one that I'm glad to say I won't have to go on).

And while my friend may appear slightly adamant in her dating preferences, we all kind of do the same thing. We have certain opinions, about certain things, which make us fit into certain labels, and then we go around convinced that "like attracts like." We basically go through life with motion sensors that beep more quickly when we're approaching a like-thinker. It's like "oh, you like the ocean?" (beep)," "and doing yoga?" (beep beep)," and you're an Obama supporter (beep beep beep), "and you're a card carrying member of the ACLU?" (beepbeepbeep beep)," and "and you think there's nothing better than sitting on the ocean, after yoga, and talking about Obama and civil rights issues" (beepebeepbeepebeep..JACKPOT). We all claim to like diversity, but at the end of the day, don't we just want to be surrounded by a group of people with common ideas?

Of course we do! Based on some nurture and some nature, we cling to certain opinions for safety and, in some regards, survival. If we are raised in an environment where those who surround us believe the same thing and then we look for cues to support that opinion, chances are we too will have that opinion. We then continue to pursue environments where others share the same opinions--communities of like minded people offer a safe haven to share opinions and ideas free of intense conflict. Communities also validate our opinions, which thereby strengthen these opinions and reinforce the truth of what we believe. Thus, our opinions are, in many regards, our truths that help us navigate through life as fluidly as possible.

So this is all pretty obvious. Nothing deep going on here at all. But the question turns back to the role of opinions. If we are not our opinions, what are we? And if we can't detach from our opinions (because it is inherent to mankind to have them), then how do we deal with them?

I know we are more than our opinions because I have friends who I disagree with on almost every political and religious realm possible and I still love them to death. If they were their opinions, we certainly wouldn't be friends. But there is something within their "inner-being" (if you will) that attracts me to them. And this inner-being (also called their Christ-like consciousness, Buddha nature, soul or whatever you want to call it) transcends their constructed thoughts on the world.

So once I became cognizant to the fact that we are not necessarily what we think (and the fact that just because we think something doesn't mean it's true), it was easier for me to separate people from their opinions. But that was only half the battle. Even though I knew people weren't their opinions, their opinions still drove me crazy! "Now whaaaat!?" I would bemoan (ahem whine) to myself, "It'd be so much easier if I didn't like these people because then I wouldn't have to listen to them talk. But now I actually adore these people, but can't stand it when they open their mouths!"

So where does this leave me? (I switched to the present tense because I'm still working on this as we speak.) It leaves me with a choice: only surround myself who think exactly the same way as me or have some friends who hold different views on certain issues. Once I decided on the latter, I knew I needed tools to deal with our different opinions. And through people wiser than me (ahem Buddha and other gurus) I found the answer...detachment!!

Now this may sound brutally blunt, but this is the best way of summing this point up--the best way to free yourself from the burden of other people's opinions is simply "not to give a shit what other people think." It simply is what it fricking is. They have those opinions because of COURSE they have those opinions because their own environment and experiences LED them to have those opinions. And it actually doesn't matter what they think, because they are entitled to those thoughts, and at the end of the day, it doesn't really affect me at all. That is not to say that there shouldn't be dialogue or discussions or debates about certain issues, because I think our opinions should not necessarily be definite; these conversations offer opportunities for self-exploration. But, if I can't change people's opinions, then the only thing I can change is how I react to them. I can let myself get frustrated and upset and angry and emotional OR I can simply "let go." Deep breaths. Mindful awareness of our constructed differences. And move on.

This is like soooo easier said then done. But I'm working on it. I really am. But, until I can free myself from the web of attachment of other people's opinions, the most I can do is take deep breaths, shake my fist and wail, "fricking opinions, they ruin it every time!"


  1. I couldn't have said it any better myself..."And it actually doesn't matter what they think, because they are entitled to those thoughts, and at the end of the day, it doesn't really affect me at all." And i'll add to that "everyone has opinions and as long as they are not TOO extreme! kindness, generosity, a sense of humor and happiness is more important in a friend than an opinion...

  2. Amen. Those qualities result in ACTS of friendship (sharing, loyalty, laughing), which are so much more valuable and demonstrative of friendship than intangible thoughts. Thanks for sharing Zen!!

  3. are you talking about opinions or values?

    i value having friends who do not suck and i know what their values are by their actions, and their voice. and that, im sorry, is their opinoin

  4. Good point Shannie--values and opinions are different. But often they arise through the same means-nature and environment. I also completely agree that we know people's values through their actions and their voices and their opinions.

    I can hear hurt in your voice. And that is most likely from the fact that you specifically have suffered from people's actions and opinions that convey an unacceptance about who you are. And I think that's exactly why I'm so glad you're not in a community where those viewpoints reign. You personify my point about the evolutionary need to be in a community of like-minded people for purposes of "safety." So you can be who you are fluidly, free of opinions that may clash with not only your own opinions but of your identity. While I discussed a lot about transcending opinions, I speak from someone who has never had to be discriminated against. For people who are continually faced with discrimination, the act of overcoming "opinions" is a much more difficult task. And I respect your opinion that being friends with people whose values are in stark contrast to your well-being may be too exhausting adn difficult a task. I love you.

  5. I don't have anything clever or insightful to say... just wanted you to know I am keeping up on your journey...:)