The Opinions of Others

By Chris Chittenden

As human beings, we are inundated with opinions. They are there in the conversations we have with others, our entertainment, on billboards, in newspapers, on the Internet etc etc etc. Those opinions lead us to determine who will be our friends, our lovers, what products we will buy, what job we will do, how we will do our job. The list just goes on and on. We would not know how to live, if it were not for opinions. Indeed, one of the key aspects of being human is how we deal with opinions.

So what are opinions, that they should have such an impact on us? Simply put, they are stories we have that are based in our assessments of the world. It has been said that human beings are "assessment machines". We are always making judgements about what we observe and we use those judgements to determine what actions we will take. Making good assessments is one of the keys to leading a successful life.

So what impact do others' opinions have on us? Fundamentally, others' opinions shape our own. Because we live in a social world, we are constantly in a dance with other people. We want to be accepted by them. We want to fit in. In part, we do this by taking on board others' opinions and adopting them as our own. Given that we are constantly flooded with opinions, why do we choose to take on some and not others? The answer to that question lies in the authority we give to the person giving the opinion. This is why advertising companies often put well known people in their advertisements. It is why we take heed of our parents' opinions when we are young and why our boss' view carries weight. We give them the authority to make judgements that will give meaning to us.

The interesting aspect of this is that authority is an assessment! We have an opinion about the weight of someone's view and accordingly, we are more or less likely to adopt their opinion as ours. For example as we grow into our teenage years, we give less authority to our parents and more to our peers. As a result, our parent's opinion begins to count for less and our peers for more.

This is not to say that we do not have our own opinions and make our own assessments. Indeed, we do. The point here is that we grew up in a world of assessments. Many of those assessments existed before we did, yet we adopted them as our own. They lived in our standards, what we believe to be right or wrong, good or bad. We may well have changed some of those assessments as we grew older but many we have never even questioned.

Part of our growth as a human being lies in questioning our assessments and where they came from. This is not to say that we abandon them. However, if there are areas of our life we are not happy with, exploring our assessments in this domain and how we came to them, can be very helpful in improving that aspect of our life. For example, we have come across stories of people who have been living in the assessments of their parents even though they had been dead for twenty years.

It is important to remember that our assessments are not immutable. They live within us and are within our power to change. We are all caught up in a web of our own and others' assessments. We gain greater freedom in life if we understand where our opinions come from, why we accept them as our own and to change them if they do not serve us well.

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© 2002 Chris Chittenden