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How To Form Your Own Opinions

Everyone’s got an opinion, and Bill has hundreds. From whether hot dogs count as sandwiches to whether Kings of Leon are rock or pop, there’s lots of passion on both sides of any issue. Open up a forum on literally any topic, and people are lining up to speak their minds faster than the girls from The Crucible. Except, you know, not about who’s been casting spells.

But what about if you haven’t decided your opinion about a subject? PREPARE TO BE PROSELYTIZED TO. They’ll be arriving by land and by sea to tell you why they are right.

Ignore the people with their megaphones and opinions. Your opinion is the only one that really matters. Here’s how you narrow it down and decide for yourself how you feel about an issue. Take your time in doing it, too!

1. Listen to your gut instinct.

This is huge. Even if you can’t articulate why you feel a certain way about something, your body tells you how you feel.

My best friend had to deal with this when she was choosing a puppy. Her dad agreed she was old enough and responsible enough to look after a dog, but felt strongly about going to a breeder, because he believed that they would get a well-looked-after pup with the right personality that way. My friend didn’t know a ton about the issue, beyond “pet shops are bad,” but something inside her just said “Eh, I don’t know…” when listening to him. A little rumble in the tummy, so to speak.

She did some research, and wound up feeling quite strongly about adopting a rescue dog after coming across arguments that, despite best intentions, breeders create more pets when there are surplus of animals looking for homes, and inadvertently encourage the awful practice of puppy mills. She took her concerns to her dad, and they had some super-interesting conversations before finding an adorable cattle dog mix at a local pound that they both loved. Huzzah for families making us smarter!

2. Research all the different sides (and talk about doing it!)

If your mind is made up, the internet is there to confirm your bias (theory: Froot Loops on a sandwich is the lunch of gods… CONFIRMED!), no matter how bananas it is, so it’s incredibly important to research the different sides of an argument. As our hero John Green once said, do not fail to imagine things complexly! Even if you think you’re firmly set on one side or the other, researching is never a waste of your time. If nothing else, you’ll learn more about why people who think differently than you may think that. You may even respect their process and beliefs. Imagine!

Read different news stories. Read books. Read and read and read. But while you’re reading, tell people that you’re researching both sides whenever stuff comes up in conversation. This immediately lets you off the hook from contributing to the conversation or settling on one side of the fence. It’s kinda brilliant.

3. Ask people what they think (the RIGHT way).

Here comes the hardest part about forming your own opinion: Other people. Like I said in the beginning, everyone’s going to sway you to one side or the other if you state that you’re undecided on something important. That’s just how people are wired: “Join our team*!” (*Team Jacob, Team Gale, Team Peeta, Team Draco.)

Forming your own opinion means hearing these arguments. But save yourself some time and ask this first, “Why do you believe what you believe?”

Now, you may get some dumb answers like these: “Because it’s right!” “Because he’s stupid!” Because it’s just not done that way!” When you do, dig a little deeper. Why does that person think gun control is the right thing to do? What did the principal do that was stupid? Why do they think Ravenclaws accessorizing with tin and not silver just isn’t done? Get to the bottom of that person’s logic, or the emotion behind their choice. You might be surprised at what you sympathize with.

4. Find your “reset button.”

Of all people, my little brother was the one who explained this concept to me. He’s much more religious than I am, and whenever he has a decision to make, he goes to the Bible. Not necessarily for clear instructions. More like for clarity. It’s his inner Reset Button.

My Reset Button is the Ring Cycle. It’s a set of four epic operas, explained briefly in this video. Think Thor with crazy cool music,  a dragon, and a lesson that humans can be powerful even among gods if they are guided by what is right. Plus that one awesome opera song you know is from it. You know it: Duh duh duh DUH nuh, duh duh duh DUH nuh…

Whenever I feel down, I listen to music from any of the opera and am reminded of the morals and lessons it teaches. It helps me get out of my own head and get some perspective by listening to another person’s story. I can then come back to my own life with clarity. This is why some people re-read Spiderman comics, or watch The Princess Bride over and over. Watching Peter Parker or Buttercup figure something out can sometime inform our decisions for the better!

5. Promise yourself that you are open to change.

This is what divides mature people from immature people when it comes to forming opinions. If you change your opinions over time, that means you’re growing as a person. It doesn’t mean you were wrong before, or that you’re a hypocrite. You just learned new things.

Think of the first time you read anything about Professor Snape. You hated him, right? You thought he was an evil scumbag who ragged on Harry for no reason and was probably definitely affiliated with all things evil. And slimy potions. Because who likes those? But then, we all learned the truth. We all learned about his crazy capacity for love, his badass fighting style and his unwillingness to take the bog from anyone but Dumbledore. He was willing to look like an evil person for the greater good. And for most of us, our opinions changed.

Were you BORN with a rock-solid stance on states’ rights or do you allow your opinions to fluctuate with the length of Chris Hemsworth’s hair?