When it comes to the subject of forming an opinion, we generally expect people to have a personal view of their own. Sigmund Freud, after much psychological research, formulated it this way: he said that
opinions own people.
This is certainly a perspective we can relate to. We see this especially with politicians, who often possess very strong views about almost every subject. We can also see this in family and close friends, when we encounter strongly held opinions that quickly become very obstinate, no matter what the counter argument.
It can even be that we feel that someone is ‘possessed’ by an opinion, and will not listen to reason, but of course, we can see this in others more readily than within ourselves. We also start from the perspective that our opinions are always correct, and we justify ourselves, ‘because we have looked at all aspects in a balanced and open way, and therefore our conclusions are indisputable’.
It is a natural tendency for the individual to share an opinion with like minded people, thus seeking confirmation and support, and therefore ‘strengthening’ the opinion. The danger is however, that if we feel that our opinion is confirmed through the support of others, we then hold onto it more fiercely, and we become ever more closed off to opposing views.
The creation and formation of strong barriers between opposing points of view, and thus people’s perception of each other as polarizing fronts, is psychologically based on the same principle as tribalism – where a line of defence is formed at the borders of the tribal territory. In additional to dealing with inflexible opposing views, is the problem that there is often a perceived psychological pressure to take action, to ‘overcome your opponent’.
Each opposing side then insists that they have the better arguments, and the focus changes to winning the ‘war of words’, and defeating the other side in this battle of wills. Such negative outcomes when differing views become defined by lines of demarcation, are easy to discern, no matter what the issue that is being argued.
It can also be that, in order to resolve a deadlocked argument, two opposing groups will elect representatives or leaders to ‘battle it out’, and find a solution. But this also means that the representative’s position, or personal abilities, will be tested and scrutinized, and hence their focus will also change from ‘finding the truth’, to protecting their reputation. So then the question remains as to whether or not this ‘solution’, can ever arrive at anything resembling a truth based upon openness, a realistic perception, or a universally accepted outcome by all parties.
We can give many examples of ‘solutions’ arrived at by an autocratic decision of a party, group, or individual, without full consideration of achieving a general consensus. In political circles for instance, we see where the elected few can impose decisions, rules, and even laws, on the majority. But of course, whether such ‘solutions’ achieve a practical or intended outcome, remains to be seen. We can see similar situations occur in dogmatised religious movements for instance, where strongly held opinions and conceptions predominate the thinking, yet appear far removed from gaining the full support by their members. So what possible alternative approaches could there be?
As a counter response to the aim of achieving a group consensus, where shared opinions and values of one group are rejected by another, could we not trust the freedom of the individual to achieve a unified agreement, even if we include the assumption that they willingly embrace values such as non-violence, and open discourse on opinions, rather than focusing on winning an argument, and thereby creating ‘distance’ from people who might harbor different views?
We could also ask whether it is actually necessary to place so much emphasis on opinions, attaining consensus, or accepting affirmations as a valuable contribution to achieving agreements. Could it not be better to value time to investigate all aspects associated with a topic, rather than accept unsupported opinions as having an equal value?
Better outcomes are always possible, and this is generally accepted, but such results are less easily attained when we have to contend with our predisposition to automatically assume we are always correct, and to blindly defend this position. To change this, it means firstly recognising our own biases, and then finding the willingness to let them go.
In management training for instance, techniques and methods have been developed to ‘manage’ dissention, and to arrive at a consensus that is the least contentious. In wisdom teachings and spiritual practices however, a different starting point is offered to gain the same goal; one that includes introspection, inner silence and contemplation, and the objective observation of the topic being focused upon. Such alternate approaches also include the advice to listen to the voice of the heart, as part of your consideration process.
It is important to emphasise that this approach is not just about avoiding conflict, or comprehensively analysing, even though the negative effects of a strongly polarised situation would in themselves, make this an attractive proposition. No, the advice to adopt a different focus that begins with stillness and self-awareness, and that seeks to let go of those negative ego-centric tendencies, is based on the results of first-hand experiences by those who have actively applied this approach.
Doing so, is not in the first instance about forming an opinion, but about approaching the truth. We know that our perception of ourselves is strongly linked to, and filtered by, who we think we are, our likes and dislikes, our comfortable habits, and our so familiar character. By letting go as much as possible of these existing perceptions of ourselves and the world around us, we become more sensitive, we open ourselves and break the cycle. We promote the possibility of gaining a different inner perception; one that is no longer coloured by our personal filters.
In this way, we can approach the question of whether or not there is a different reality, independent of what we have hitherto clung to as our personal ‘reality’. This practice however, can only produce new and truly different results, if within us, lives a longing to support such a different perception, and is strong enough to break through our current filters and beliefs. Otherwise, the result may well be nothing more than a refined culture, a more colourful expansion of our current perceptions, but still not essentially different.
Many of the world’s major spiritual wisdoms and teachings, talk about the origin of this longing, as does the School of the Golden Rosycross. They talk of an original divine remnant that lives in our hearts; a soul-nucleus or principle that is eternal in essence. This soul-nucleus is able to assert its presence more and more as we leave behind our self-centred impulses, and embrace a life of inner peace and harmony. In that peace we can let go of all of our prejudiced tendencies and opinions that come from our self-centred nature. Then a new consciousness, born of the original soul-element, will free us from our old constraints, and bring us a new level of awareness.
It will bring a new inspiration into our being; it will open our thinking to new possibilities; it will allow us to come to different conclusions not involving the winning of arguments or the conflict of differing polarized opinions. And most importantly, it will give us the inner strength to accept that we are not always correct, and the vision to see the inner values of another persons’ contribution.