I frequently run into people who confuse fact with opinion. It’s a fact that if you fall down and hit your head on the sharp edge of the table it’s going to hurt (unless you have a numb head). It’s not a fact that yellow is the prettiest color of the spectrum. That’s an opinion.
It’s a fact that if you lean your hand onto a hot burner of a stove, you’ll burn your skin. It’s not a fact that peppermint ice cream is the best flavor on the planet. That’s an opinion. (Okay, yes — there are philosophers that might argue that a sharp surface doesn’t hurt, but just go with me here for basics.)
Facts can be proven. Opinions cannot. I once had a classmate who said, jokingly, “You know, since an opinion is never wrong, I think, on math tests, you should get to say, In my opinion, the answer is….And then you’d always get 100%!”
If only it were that easy.
But with the way you hear people speak of things, things they’ve decide are best/worst, good/bad, right/wrong — that those are facts. Hard evidence-proven facts. Sure. Facts can change. But what I’m talking about here are beliefs.
I had someone ask me how we could possibly not know what’s right and what’s wrong — because it’s obvious, isn’t it? And that we should always know how to react.
Well, how so?
But who is deciding what is good and what is bad?
I may hate a movie — you may think it’s the best on the planet. You may love hunting, and, even though I know you do it for food, I may find it’s a horrible practice. I might be for capital punishment — but you may find it abhorrent.
Which one of us is right?
Which is bad — which is good? Can you prove to me that capital punishment is “bad”? (I’m not saying I’m for it, nor am I saying I’m against it. I’m just using this as an example.)
Killing, lying and stealing are all intrinsically wrong, this person went on to say. Again, I ask — how so? They might not be nice, but what if you lived in a culture where it was encouraged to lie, steal and kill, and that if you didn’t, you were going against social mores and acting against the law?
I was then asked if what I was saying was that there wasn’t any such thing as good or bad, and that they’re just creations of our own mind? Of our own beliefs and values?
Yes, I said. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
In Star Wars,— the Emperor thought the rebels were bad. The rebels thought the Emperor was bad. But what if the entire Star Wars saga was told from the Empire’s point of view? What if the rebels were portrayed as scum and wrongdoers?
Now who’s “right” and who’s “wrong”?
Just because you have a decided view of what you think is “bad” or “good” doesn’t mean it is.
The person with whom I was talking then went on to say that, if that’s what I believed (ironic that was the word they used), it meant (again an ironic word) I lived in a “fantasy world”.
Once more — how so?
If you consider the points above, how is it a fantasy world when it’s purely disagreement? You choose to decide what’s bad for you and what’s good for you. But you may be in total disagreement with someone else.
So who’s right?
Every person, every culture — every culture within a culture — has their opinion of what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. What’s “wrong” and what’s “right”. There is no “intrinsic” good or bad. There may be an overall agreement that something isn’t a preferable action. Like murder. Or child abuse. Culturally, there can be an overriding opinion of something being bad or wrong.
But just because you think something is “evil” or “bad” or “wrong” doesn’t mean it is. You’ve simply chosen to give that something that particular label. But, again, just because you think something is “good” or “right” doesn’t mean it is, either. Thinking it does is also a decision you’ve made.
An internal representation means you’ve placed a meaning on something as “good” or “bad”. Internally, it represents X value to you. Maybe you were taught to believe it. Maybe you had something happen where you decided that’s what it meant. But you decided to place that particular meaning on it.
The World — the Universe — did not apply that meaning. You did.
Just because there is a large portion of a population that agrees that something is “good” still doesn’t mean it is. The same goes for something that portion has decided is “bad”. If you polled absolutely every single person on the planet who knew about Gandhi — can you say, with absolute certainty — that every single person will hold the same opinion that you do about him?
My bet would be that you would find — maybe not very many — certain people who believe he was a hate-mongerer. Bad. There were English people who felt he was for trying to usurp the way things were. There were/are people who thought the same thing of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Look at what people picket and protest. The picketers and protesters of Subject A, the ones holding up signs saying that Subject A is “bad” or “wrong” believe it is. But, there, on the other side of the street, are people holding up signs saying that Subject B is “good” and “right”.
So who’s correct?
What a population — a good percentage — may hold as a “good” or “right” value shifts over time. We once thought slavery was fine. Now we don’t. But there are still cultures who do believe in it. What you see as oppression may not be seen as such by someone else. What you’re saying is that you don’t agree with someone’s personal choices.
Just look at politics. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? You or the fellow who voted against your candidate? Are you invalidating their beliefs because you’re in disagreement?
And what about other cultures? There are people who feel Americans are evil incarnate. There are people in the United States who believe this. American citizens. Yes, their actions may be hideous, but remember–from their point of view, they’re right and you’re wrong.
As I said above, the World and Universe are neutral because it doesn’t apply meanings to things. You do. When you look at something, it elicits an emotion, which you causes you to choose what the object means.
It’s not about “good” and “bad” becoming “mixed and obscured” — it’s about understanding that they’re opinions. Opinions are neither right nor wrong. Can they sometimes be misinformed? Sure (in my opinion.) But that still doesn’t make them “right” or “wrong”.
They’re merely what someone has decided something means. And that’s where acceptance of an opposing view goes a long way to your sense of peace.
Agreeing to disagree creates more peace than one person living the way another decrees is correct.
Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.