We’ve all heard the phrase, “You’re entitled to your opinion,” but it seems to be uttered in response to people with poorly formed opinions. It is a myth that all opinions are created equally. The perpetuation of this myth reveals a deep conflict about what exactly constitutes as an opinion in the first place. There is a difference between the opinion one encounters every week in this column section and a belief with no substantiation. Also, what separates my ranting from a simple recitation of facts? Two factors: subjective interpretation and purposeful word choice.
If this simple concept isn’t yet clear, let’s turn to a real life example. Earlier this week, I submitted a column about the Boy Scouts of America and its discriminatory practices against gay and lesbian parents wishing to serve as scout leaders. I took the language in their recent proposal, which states that the screening process is in place to protect the scouts.
After reciting this language, I informed the reader that from there on, my musings were not based on an explicit statement made by the organization, but instead inference. I interpreted the facts as I saw fit, establishing a link between this statement and the belief among many religious pro-family groups that gays pose a danger to scouts in that they are more likely to be pedophiles.
The document never mentions the word pedophile, but it is doubtful that any document issued from such a public organization would do so. This interpretation of facts is based on my own subjective experience as a gay woman with a religious background, offended by false claims about the link between homosexuality and pedophilia.
The editors of Pipe Dream took out my statement on the basis that it was factually incorrect, as the proposal does not mention such reasoning. Although my argument was based on conjecture, it still deserves to be heard. A mere inference of this nature cannot be proven false or true. Subjective experience cannot be proven false or true. At this point, you are probably questioning the value of subjective experience.
Our blind acceptance of the objective fact as paramount above all testimony betrays a chronic laziness and inability to think critically. Anyone who knows the nature of an op-ed reads it with a grain of salt, understanding that the writer is espousing his or her own point of view. Critical thinkers possess the ability to temporarily put themselves in the “shoes” of the writer, without losing a sense of the experiences that shape their own view of the world.
If we begin to edit out interpretations of fact, however fiery and hyperbolic, we are engaging in a very dangerous form of censorship. Never underestimate the power of words. Some say that actions speak louder than words, but the arrangement of words in sequence is an act in and of itself. Omission is an equally powerful act, and I experienced that first hand this week. My words were watered down. What is the point of voicing one’s opinion if it’s deprived of full impact and gusto? Let this be a lesson to everyone, while we are all entitled to opinions, take care to treat your own interpretation of facts with seriousness and extend the same courtesy to others.