In our household, we used to play a game with our school-aged children called “fact vs. opinion”. It started during meal times, when one child would often pronounce another child’s food choice “disgusting” and inquire how the offending child could possibly eat such a nasty food. This would prompt a full-scale verbal battle, leading us to create the “fact vs. opinion” game. Fact or opinion? Peanut butter tastes horrible! Fact or opinion? The Christmas holiday occurs on December 25. Fact or opinion? Baseball is more fun to watch than football. Our children sometimes reversed their answers in order to keep stirring the pot; but thankfully, they also started to distinguish between facts and opinions, as well as realize that respecting other people’s opinions is an important part of contributing to a peaceful world.
I think of the “fact vs. opinion” game when I see the turmoil in the world today. We seem to assert our viewpoints as facts more often than opinions, and ignore any evidence that does not fit our particular views. If a political candidate has not been elected yet, we really cannot say with certainty that this person will solve particular problems the country faces. We have the right to assert that opinion and act upon it, but we do not have the right to state it as fact before seeing the results of particular policies. Ask yourself if you have ever justified actions that you would typically find unacceptable, solely because they came from someone “on your side”. There is nothing wrong with tremendous energy in our opinions; but, when we present them as indisputable facts, we drive bigger wedges between ourselves and anyone who disagrees with us.
We designed the “fact vs. opinion” game to help our kids see things from another person’s point of view. If we stop for one minute and listen to why another person likes peanut butter, or prefers baseball to football, or believes Sunday worship is important, we expand our focus beyond ourselves and can maybe even appreciate differences among us. It is not necessary that we change our minds about something; only that we make the effort to understand where someone else is coming from. The key point here is to actually have a listening mindset and not simply wait until we can “inform the other person why we are correct”.
Many of us have very limited practice sharing opinions with someone who feels differently than we do. Growing up, we may have learned that contrary opinions lead to arguments, bad feelings, and even a refusal to keep communicating with each other. Hopefully, we can reverse these trends by looking for ways to show others that we value our relationships with them above all else. That means we tell them, by our words or actions, that we can accept differences of opinions. We choose to focus not only on positive feelings for each other, but things that we actually agree on. It is easy to lose sight of the innumerable commonalities we have, when we let passionate differences steal the spotlight.
I once read a novel where a wise old grandmother tried to help her grandson understand how difficult it is to truly change someone else’s mind. In their village, peddlers set up shops in the marketplace; she described one such shop where a merchant had tried to sell different points of view. It was quickly shut down, she explained: it turned out when it came to opinions, everyone was more than happy to keep their own. Think back to the last time you changed your mind about something or even tried anything new, solely on the input of someone else. Personally, I am most open to new viewpoints when I listen to someone whose values I admire, and whose words and actions are consistent. Opinions expressed with respect and an open mind are inspiring; heavy-handed lectures often make us retreat further into our own corners. The bottom line is, I listen most closely to someone who is also listening to me. It also helps if they know baseball is, by far, the most entertaining sport to watch…in my opinion only, of course.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.