Once upon a time, a young woman dated a young man. The two were happily browsing in the Kloof Street Exclusive Books when he said how much he likes that particular bookstore. She asked him why and he said it’s because they’ve got the best selection of books, especially ones on sociology.
Fast-forward one or two years and we find the same woman having a conversation with someone about Exclusive Books. The unnamed person says something about Exclusive Books in general and the young woman says that, by Jove! the Exclusive Books in Kloof Street has a superb collection of books.
The unnamed person asks her why she says this and…she doesn’t have an answer. She can’t tell the unnamed person it’s her then boyfriend’s opinion. That’d be an embarrassing thing to do. So she quickly changes the conversation by shouting “Look! There’s a bright shiny thing behind you!’
I was that young woman circa 2009. That was when I realised to not ever adopt someone else’s opinion on something. Unless, of course, the opinion is evidence-based AND it’s something I find to be true.
It’s been serving me pretty well but I often encounter others who still think it’s an OK thing to do. To present an opinion without giving a reason why it’s a good one to hold. They present these opinions mostly in blog comments and in Facebook group threads. Those are the two places where I tend to have most of my debates.
I once blogged about how we shouldn’t have low expectations of the masses. And I still think (I have evidence-based reasons, I promise) that we should expect more of ’normal’ people. These people influence our live: they sit on school boards, they’re our employers, they’re store owners. And their choices and reasons for doing things can mean that we live a good life or it can mean that we feel forced to seek asylum in a country that won’t prosecute queers.
Remember, democracy is based on the appeal to majority fallacy: we do what the majority wants. So if the majority of the people around you want to prosecute queers, then that’s what’s going to happen. And no amount of reasoning with them will prevent this if they don’t base their opinions on sound, rational, evidence-based facts.
The conversations I have won’t directly influence which president people will vote for. Nor will those conversations decide whether to provide free ARVs to poor people. But it’s still important to be intellectually rigorous and to base an opinion on facts. To ask ‘why?’ and to probe deeper, to find the answer. To not just say that the MyCiti buses are safer than trains, but to ask *why* that is. Or to ask *why* censorship is a bad thing.
And to live a life that harms no-one.
So feel free to try this next time: ask someone ‘why do you say that?’ This might surprise them: few of us question others’ opinions; we accept it as their ‘worldview’ and we forget that this ‘worldview’ doesn’t happen in a vacuum, free of outside influences.