Are we entitled to our opinions? This is a controversial topic.
If everyone is entitled to an opinion, are all opinions equally valid in all contexts? Ideally, opinions should be based on facts. And yet, humans have a limited capacity to gather information from reality. What facts should we consider? How do we know what is relevant and what is not?
A matter of perspective
All of our opinions are biased, but not everyone is biased in the same way. The information we gather depends on our interests, background, culture, and other factors. So do our conclusions.
In 2001, Janet Stephens, a hairdresser from Baltimore, made a great discovery when she questioned a simple fact about ancient Rome that everyone had taken for granted.
On a trip to a museum, she learned about the intricate hairstyles worn by the Vestal Virgins and tried to duplicate them. While reading Roman literature, she came across the term “acus”, which translates as “hairpin.” But her experience with embroidery sparked the theory that these ancient hairstyles were actually created with a needle and thread. Her findings were published in the 2008 issue of the Journal of Roman Archaeology.
What made the difference was that no one before had any real knowledge of hairdos, and they were only making assumptions based on their experience and so-called common sense. Given the same facts, they came to different conclusions.
It’s true that a diversity of opinions often leads to richer discussions and a broader understanding of the world, but should we be willing to respect others’ right to their opinions?
While everyone deserves respect, not all opinions are respectable, especially if they are harmful to another person’s psychological safety. Therefore, while we are entitled to our opinions, we also have a responsibility to ensure that our words and actions contribute to a safe and respectful environment for all. In some settings, such as the workplace and educational institutions, everyone should feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of humiliation or retaliation.
But having the right to express our opinions doesn’t mean we don’t have to take responsibility for their impact. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. And yet, everyone deserves respect. Don’t they?
When we disagree with someone, chances are we’re diminishing the other person by questioning not only their opinion but their right to be and their humanity. This is what happens when we use the “ad hominem” argument. It involves discrediting an individual’s opinion by attacking the individual themselves rather than addressing the substance of their argument.
So, while we are entitled to our opinions, that doesn’t mean that our opinions have no impact, and we should be responsible for them. We are also responsible for creating the conditions in which everyone feels safe, remembering that we should respond to the arguments, not attack the person.