*cricket chirps in my head*
September 19, 2009 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How can I become more opinionated?

Some background on myself: I'm a somewhat introverted person who doesn't have a problem with talking. I'm not shy. However, I usually don't think I ever have anything useful to say. The way I see it... everything happens for a reason. Why argue. At least, I'd rather let someone more competent with words and persuasion take care of any arguing.

When it comes to having an opinion, my mind feels very... blank. I'm a very mellow person (no drugs or anything like that, I'm mild-mannered and usually happy), and I get riled up over very little. Sure, I think some things are nice and some things are not very nice, but I can't seem to form any strong opinion I can get behind. Doesn't everything have its good aspects and bad aspects?

But sometimes I need to form opinions. Particularly for this weekend because I have an assignment to write an op-ed -- a fun writing exercise, but I can't really say I am devoted to the issue we need to write about -- but also because people seem to like opinionated people, and nothing in this world seems to be able to move forward without a talented and opinionated force pushing it.

TLDR: So, in short, I, a laid-back, uncaring transient being in this noisy world, would like to learn how to form opinions. Eventually I'd like to learn how to have persuasion skills and support those opinions, but I figure I best start from the basics.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you read a lot? The more you know about something, the more informed you are, the better base of knowledge you'll have to form an opinion. Read everything. Read things you agree with, things you will NEVER agree with, etc.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:43 PM on September 19, 2009


Have you thought about a brief study of rhetoric?
posted by nj_subgenius at 2:54 PM on September 19, 2009


I'm curious: Do you actually not have strong opinions about things, or is it that you don't want to express them for some reason? I used to feel that I was the way you describe yourself -- that I could see both the good and bad in things, things are they way they are so why fight it, etc. I came to realize, though, that I didn't want to argue with people, or sometimes it just seemed too difficult to go against the tide of popular opinion.

Having an opinion doesn't mean that you're argumentative. You can (and should) be the laid-back, mild-mannered, happy person you are. It doesn't mean that you're uninteresting. Being passionate about something is not the same thing as being informed, nor does it mean you're right. Don't let the internet fool you -- while people may value others' opinions, you can't act like you're on AskMe all the time, or you'll be the annoying know-it-all.

As for the op-ed you have to write, you don't truly have to believe the stance you're taking in your writing. In fact, it can be an interesting exercise to write for the side you oppose most. Just have a cohesive argument, and express your ideas with a strong factual foundation, and you'll be good.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:59 PM on September 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Read more, the more informed you are, the more you see how ignorant everyone else sounds when they discuss issues they're not relatively well read on.
posted by zentrification at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2009


I think a good way to approach this is to think about all the events that have drastically changed your life or the lives of those who are really close to you. For instance: you went to a school with a really great music program that helped you develop a lifelong hobby of playing the guitar; your mom had cancer; an old friend is fighting in Afghanistan.

Now think about the policies and social factors that went into these things happening and what would happen if those were reversed. How would you feel about that? Angry? Sad? Happy? There! You have an opinion!

For instance - the music lessons as a kid: someone in power decided that music lessons were valuable and got the school district to put the money up to pay music teachers. What if they had cancelled the lessons before you came along and you'd never learned how to play the guitar? Or what if they came along now and made it so that other kids couldn't learn?
posted by lunasol at 3:06 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Opinions are like . . .

Don't focus on opinions, focus on knowledge and understanding (this is a lifetime task but wikipedia is your friend!). Opinions are worthless and should be considered harmful.
posted by Palamedes at 3:07 PM on September 19, 2009


You should read up on American politics over the past 10-15 years. You don't state your political affiliation (or even nationality), but there's been some incredibly shady stuff going on, and if you can't form opinions about any of it, I don't know if there's much hope for you.

Start with the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's impeachment in 1996, mosey your way through the early Bush II presidency and the Patriot Act, take a detour down scenic Dick Cheney Trail (if you can find it), and finish it all with a nice swim in John McCain and Sarah Palin's campaign strategies.

For a less partisan (in the US, at least) thing to get riled up over, read up on Iran's recent (ongoing?) Green Revolution and the seizure of the presidency by Ahmadinejad.


Apologies for the Wikipedia links; obviously there are more reliable and detailed sources out there. But I'm lazy.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:09 PM on September 19, 2009


The way I see it... everything happens for a reason.

I think this is wrong. There you have it. You have an opinion, and I disagree with it. Congratulations.
posted by grouse at 3:12 PM on September 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I feel like I've just walked into a forgotten Star Trek episode. You know, the one where Data has an awkward social encounter and decides he needs to learn how to form opinions. (And so he sits down at his LCARS terminal and brings up MeFi.)

The funny thing about those episodes is that it's always clear that whatever Data thought he didn't have (emotions, the ability to love, a sense of humour, an imagination, whatever it was), he clearly already had in spades. The character wouldn't have been worth watching if he really didn't. The writers just kept insisting that he didn't, which was kind of maddening.

So maybe a good place to start is to challenge a couple of your assumptions: first, that you have no opinions. I bet you do. As you go through the world, you sometimes feel a little itch of preference, right? An opinion is just a preference wrapped up in an idea, wrapped in some actual arguments.

Pay attention to what things rub you the right way in the world, and which things rub you the wrong way. Then ask yourself why. When you've got an answer, you've got an opinion.

Also, if anyone offers to implant an emotion chip, just say no. It never ends well.
posted by bicyclefish at 3:15 PM on September 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


can't really say I am devoted to the issue we need to write about

Find out what people who have strong opinions about the issue think, what facts they use to justify their positions, etc. Pick one perspective to write from.

Learning how people come to and justify any given opinion will both help you to decide what your own opinions are and help you to maintain a level of respect for a range of opinions.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:15 PM on September 19, 2009


This is an abstract question… what specifically can't your form an opinion about?
posted by mpls2 at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2009


You should read up on American politics over the past 10-15 years. You don't state your political affiliation (or even nationality), but there's been some incredibly shady stuff going on, and if you can't form opinions about any of it, I don't know if there's much hope for you.

Interesting take, oinopaponton. Frankly I haven't paid much attention to U.S. politics or learned enough about it for me to feel comfortable choosing one ideology over another, but I was pretty much born into a Democrat-lovin family. I think I'm disillusioned by now, and think every politician is just out there to wrangle more money for their pet projects or for their friends.

As for my nationality, I'm Puerto Rican, but who gives a damn? I don't really, but my grandma's food is great.

Opinions are worthless and should be considered harmful.

Palamedes, I sort of feel like opinions are worthless too (they just come from people! it's not like it represents any inherent truth in the world!), but that kind of thinking gets in the way of me answering this question! :P

Do you actually not have strong opinions about things, or is it that you don't want to express them for some reason?

A bit of both, runningwithscissors. The not having a strong opinion about anything bothers me more right now though.

Thanks for the food for thought so far guys, keep it comin!
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:29 PM on September 19, 2009


This is an abstract question… what specifically can't your form an opinion about?

mpls2, it's sort of like my opinion-forming competency is at grade school level. I can eat a cake and tell everyone "this is so delicious!" or take an exam and say "that was way too difficult considering the exercises we did last week." But, most of the time, I can't even grab a book or movie and say it was anything beyond "okay", and forget about actual issues! :/
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:38 PM on September 19, 2009


I think I'm like this. I've realised that it's not a lack of opinions - I just haven't worked out what opinions I hold. You need to think about things (or even better, speak to someone who asks you what you think of X,Y,Z).

If asked "what do you think about X", you'll think through the pros and cons of X, how X impacts various Ys, how dear those Ys are to you, and work your way around to therefore what you think of X.

Apple dictionary says an opinion is "a view or judgement formed about something". You just haven't formed your opinions yet.
posted by djgh at 3:41 PM on September 19, 2009



When it comes to having an opinion, my mind feels very... blank.


In my experience, this makes you far more suited for learning than being an opinionated person.

If you want to prevent growth, learning, and self-development, have a strong opinion and never budge.
posted by thisperon at 3:50 PM on September 19, 2009


You have opinions...you chose 'The Biggest Dreamer' as your name. I presume that you have set morals and could argue your rational for these.

My guess is that part of your dilemma may stem from the old adage of "seeing the forest through the trees"...we are generally a bit over-stimulated and have information coming at us all the time. It is a lot to filter through. When I'm trying to make important decisions and decide on my perspective/opinion, I try to do two thing: Research the issue (focus just this) and then take the time to mull it over (a long walk or drive to think it through). Also talk about this issue with people...as someone else suggested, it would be best to talk with someone who will probe and ask you open-ended questions.

I do not disagree with the other suggestions of reading everything you can get your hands on...but you have to then take time to filter through the info and uncover your own opinions. If you don't, you'll be more informed without having decided your opinion.

And of course everything can be viewed from a different perspective, so keeping an open-mind is important...but that seems to come naturally to you.

One last thing, about people seem to like opinionated people, and nothing in this world seems to be able to move forward without a talented and opinionated force pushing it. This is a very broad assumption...generally people become passionate about an issue and devote a lot of time and energy toward it, of course that can be admirable. I don't know too many people who really like those with strong opinions about everything.
posted by Cuddo at 4:49 PM on September 19, 2009


> I think I'm disillusioned by now, and think every politician is just out there to wrangle more money for their pet projects or for their friends.

This is actually a pretty strong opinion about U.S. politics.
posted by cj_ at 4:54 PM on September 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you want to prevent growth, learning, and self-development, have a strong opinion and never budge.

Sure, but there's a difference between having an opinion and being dogmatic. Everyone has biases; the ideal is that you recognize this, and recognizing it, stay open to new facts that could change your mind.

But anyways, OP, it's hard to have an opinion on stuff you don't care about. I'd say there's some things I'm pretty laid back about in my life, but there are plenty where I have strong opinions. What angers you? What do you love? And did you ever hear this This American Life episode about testosterone? There's a interesting piece in there about a guy who suffered a testosterone deficit, and he talks about how that lack robbed him of desire, and how without desire he could form no opinions about anything. I don't mention this to try and diagnose you --- lord knows I'm not a doctor --- but to suggest that opinions are more or less abstract expressions of want, of desire. What do you need to be happy? Why do you need it? What makes that better than other stuff? What makes you unhappy? What would you want to see changed? Gun control or net neutrality might be issues of indifference to you, but unless you have no wants, no likes, no dislikes, no preferences at all, then you must have opinions. Start there.

Forming opinions, I think, is in part the result of forming a structure for understanding the world --- our individual explanation to ourselves of why people are the way they are, why the world is the way it is. One can take the position that the universe is basically random and causeless, that individual human efforts have little effect on the course of events, and that joy and suffering are doled out in an arbitrary manner, and so it is useless to struggle for them, and most forms of argument and striving are but so much idleness and futility. But that, of course, would be an opinion. Though not, perhaps, an ethos.
posted by Diablevert at 4:56 PM on September 19, 2009


Palamedes, I sort of feel like opinions are worthless too (they just come from people! it's not like it represents any inherent truth in the world!), but that kind of thinking gets in the way of me answering this question! :P

I hope you're being sarcastic here.

If you don't think anyone else's ideas matter then it's no wonder you don't think yours do. Echoing what other people are saying, your lack of opinions come off as not having pertinent knowledge or just not caring at all. You have good taste in music, so there's something you have an opinion about -- regardless of if it's vocalized or not. Why do you listen to them?

What do you talk about with friends? Maybe the problem is who are you talking to and what are they talking about. Perhaps you're just not being stimulated by the right types of conversations.

What do you like to do? What would you like to do? What do you do for a living? What would you like to do for a living? Are you a dog or a cat person? Don't like dogs or cats? Don't really care? Be a five year old in your own head and just keep asking yourself why or why not about everything.

You're young and it appears you're in school, so get involved in some groups there or in your community. Go to talks, rallies, hell -- go to church. See what it is you don't like in order to find out what it is you do like and educate yourself on why it isn't your cup of tea at the same time. Stay afloat over at the Blue and weigh in. If that's intimidating (although it looks as though you've posted there quite a bit), find forums. Don't know what kind to find? Go to your local newspaper's website forums. Those are always a blast and deal with issues that are directly affecting you or someone you know.

There are going to be times in your life when you're going to need to stand up for who you are and/or what you believe in and just "because" isn't going to win anyone over.

Granted, there are more issues where I can easily shrug them off and say they're not my battle to fight and I'd rather the experts or ignorants duke it out than there are ones that I am incredibly and endlessly passionate about. Maybe you're having a hard time differentiating?

Grab a couple of friends and play devil's advocate and/or join a debate club. It's fun, educational and confidence-boosting.. and maybe, despite what you might believe, you need that confidence.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:51 PM on September 19, 2009


I guess I'm also at a loss as to how these are not opinions, and incredibly strong opinions at that:
MeFi post: Ruins of the Second Gilded Age
Ugh, this pisses me off. Mostly because there are hundreds if not thousands of old, decrepit buildings across the nation that never get so much as touched with a broom let alone millions of dollars in redevelopment money. It's a freaking eyesore.

I'm hoping the next age will be one of rehabilitation, retrofits, and renewal.
posted to MetaFilter by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:44 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites +]


MeFi post: Thank Goodness! Finally!
The header picture with Obama's face in the sun/flower thing makes me cringe.
posted to MetaFilter by The Biggest Dreamer at 9:12 PM on July 5, 2009 [+]


MeFi post: The complex feelings of many women who've had abortions
It seems that, like birth control, abortion is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone reacts to it differently.

I for one like the "pro-voice" message. No matter what judgments anybody has, no one deserves to be silenced.
posted to MetaFilter by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:59 PM on July 1, 2009 [+]
Is it not so much opinions as much as it is some sort of huge campaign you feel you need to stand behind? Are your friends all part of something bigger than themselves or do you look up to people like that.. because going through your posts here it seems you've got plenty to say.
posted by june made him a gemini at 6:59 PM on September 19, 2009


It sounds like you have an opinion about the value of being opinionated; your challenge is being opinionated on demand. It's a skill debaters and lawyers train for years to hone.
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man."
In debate classes, students will spend some time brainstorming pros and cons on a topic (usually a proposal). The goal is to teach them to put themselves in the mind of both sides of an issue and to learn some of the basic "works in every situation" crutches. Like the arguments about the status quo being fine, versus the dangers of the unknown (these days I hear a lot about economic "unintended consequences" on the radio...). Of course some debate techniques aren't applicable to other formats like op-ed.

The key to opinion is to realize it's post-hoc rationalization. You find how you feel about a subject and then decide how to justify it. Take a position then go out and find facts and arguments on it's side. You still benefit from figuring out cons, since you can craft the piece to withstand (but not necessarily acknowledge) their existence.

But keep in mind plenty of "unreasonable men" have died for a failure to compromise. The desire to write a good opinion piece, I understand. But the desire to lead the world through sheer opinion, I do not. I think this is your first lesson: lofty rhetoric isn't nearly as convincing as your personal anecdotes.
posted by pwnguin at 8:02 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This might be a crazy answer, but have you been to your doctor recently? Honestly, having no opinions sounds like a medical problem. I know certain hormonal deficiencies will cause a sort of "who cares" attitude about most things, as will depression. It really shouldn't be very hard to form opinions if you have any feelings at all about the world you live in.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:11 PM on September 19, 2009


Perhaps it's not a lack of opinions. Perhaps you don't feel that the opinions you have are worthwhile. Maybe you need to take yourself a little bit more seriously, and recognize that you have a voice, and deserve to be listened to. It's easier to be confident if you practice a bit.

Do you like music? books? movies? cars? Start by expressing positive opinions, and work your way into serious ranting.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 PM on September 19, 2009


I am similar in a lot of ways. I never had strong opinions growing up. The ones I have now, are often formed by the following process:

1. Learn a lot about some topic.
2. Find other opinions, and evaluate them based on the knowledge I've gained.
3. Form new opinion, if only that the opinions you have seen are incorrect.

One example is voting systems. Through my own common sense and a bit of research, I found out that the plurality and electoral college systems that we have in America are broken ways of picking a best option. Then, through further research, I found out that range voting is probably the best solution. Now I have a strong opinion that the current electoral process in America ought to be changed to range voting.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:10 PM on September 19, 2009


I am opinionated. Born that way. I think you have opinions but see no reason to express them. What is the upside? There is an old joke along the lines of, "If I want your opinion I will beat it out of you", or as my MIL says, "if I want your opinion, I will give it to you." Give it to yourself. In your head, ask yourself what your opinion is and then give a detailed answer in your head. One day soon enough if you do this all the time, those opinions will start to slip out to the rest of us. You will see the is no significant harm to expressing your opinion. What do you think?

Good luck.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:24 PM on September 19, 2009


It sounds like you're just fine at "opinions" but not so good at "value judgments". You're unwilling to extend your experiences or your beliefs to other people. This used to be true of me, although to a lesser degree, and what worked was a combination of a few things:

1. Listening to people who are clearly, horribly wrong, and arguing with them.

2. Reading the stories of people with very different life circumstances, mostly on blogs. This has given me a very strong sense that people are more alike than different, but also a sense of where there are differences that I would have ignored.

3. Collecting actual information. For something like forming opinions about movies, it would be good to study, think about, or discuss the various different ways of doing something in a movie. When all you're doing is going and having an experience, of course it's going to be "OK". You can't say it was bad unless you can imagine how it could have been done better, ideally with examples from other movies you've seen.

These things all reinforce each other; once you've talked to some people who are living without health insurance (or going into medical bankruptcy despite health insurance) you'll feel more of a desire to prove someone wrong when they say that only lazy, thoughtless people are poor, and that will drive you to collect more information, talk to more people, and revise your opinion.
posted by Lady Li at 11:24 PM on September 19, 2009


to june made him a gemini: I do think commenting on the blue (Blue? It is supposed to be capitalized?) has definitely helped draw these things out of me. ;) The Internet is a funny place.

I've marked a bunch of answers I want to explored further, but thanks for all the advice, everyone! I think perhaps the learning to take myself seriously bit is key.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:30 PM on September 20, 2009


Not to be too pedantic about this, but opinionated is not just someone who has strong opinions. It is someone who has strong opinions and refuses to budge from those opinions, regardless of any external reality. The word has strong negative connotations.

Three separate (online) dictionary definitions:

o⋅pin⋅ion⋅at⋅ed – adjective

1. obstinate or conceited with regard to the merit of one's own opinions; conceitedly dogmatic.


2. unduly adhering to one's own opinion or to preconceived notions

3. holding unreasonably or obstinately to one's own opinions

When I read this question initially, I had a very different view on what you wanted to accomplish. I would summarily ignore anyone who self-identified as opinionated as it represents an intellectual immovability and lack of desire for external discourse. It is possible to hold strong opinions and defend them well without being opinionated. I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but it's something to be mindful of.

posted by slimepuppy at 4:12 AM on September 21, 2009


So it's been established that you have strong opinions, and several of the ones you have expressed are noted in the thread. When you say things like "who cares? I don't", it's not true. There are some things you really do care about, but you're repressing your instincts because of the ruckus you're afraid it might raise.

Your peaceable nature is a good thing. But being able to make peace is of no use if you refuse to see conflict. The thing about being a good peacemaker and seeing multiple perspectives is you are in a good position to make things better by harmonizing different points of view. But when you keep saying "none of these opinions are important; nothing makes a difference", you are really saying that what you think and feel isn't really important, and you can't really make a difference.

I think you value the sense of contentment and personal peace that you get by not exploring and expressing strong opinions. What you need is awareness, and there are a number of ways to increase awareness. The only way you will ever truly feel content with yourself is if you can be truly present with yourself, and aware. So yes, it can help to learn more about other people's opinions and why they hold them. Other ways to increase awareness:

- Be open to opportunities to mediate conflicts for others. This may be something you already do naturally. Your harmonizing nature and desire for peace can be a real gift to others. This will also increase your awareness of the dynamics at play when people have opinions so strongly held they have sacrificed the personal peace and contentment you are so comfortable with.

- If you really have the ability to see from multiple perspectives, then in the future when you have to write opinion pieces try to really get into it from a particular perspective. Become an actor. If you find yourself leaning more toward one than another (and you often will, because you do have opinions), note that. The key is to be aware.

- Physical activity can do wonders to raise awareness. Physical exertion requires you to be focused on your experiences and the world around you. Taking up something like hiking, rock climbing, or dancing can help you become more comfortable with challenging yourself in other ways.

I think ultimately you need to realize that you can be a force in the world. You need to acknowledge your own desire for success (rather than hiding behind false contentment), and then you can find ways to create the success you want. You have to learn to trust your thoughts, feelings, and instincts. Yes, perceptions need to be informed and opinions should not be baseless, but the danger for you is in the suppression, not the expression.
posted by Danila at 3:53 PM on September 22, 2009


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