A goldmine for writers is taking an accepted truth and calling bullshit on it. This usually creates controversy. Why? Because if something is accepted as truth by most people, they don’t want you upending their truth. But that’s what I’m doing today.
One accepted truth, especially here in America, is that being opinionated is a good thing. It means you’re strong. That you’re passionate. That you care about things.
But there’s another side to this. I can sum it up in one word: Ego.
Most of the time we express a strongly held opinion, that passion emanates from the ego’s need to feel ‘right.’ Further, it’s ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’
I’ve heard Eckhart Tolle talk about this several times in past years. Here’s his take on it:
“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. Being right is identification with a mental position — a perspective, an opinion, a judgement, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, as so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.”
I was surprised when I first heard him say this. Why? Because I was part of that majority who holds that being opinionated is a good thing.
But I liked hearing this take from Eckhart. Why? Because I have a peculiar history with this subject.
Squashed like a bug at the dinner table
I grew up the youngest of six kids and my siblings were anything but wallflowers. They, and my parents, felt strongly about matters, big and small.
Our dinner table was loud and raucous, and as the youngest, I found it difficult to get a word in. When I did try to voice my view, I often got trampled on by one of my siblings.
Throwing in the towel
So at one point, probably around age seven or eight, I gave up. It wasn’t so much a “Wah, wah! I hate you and I’m not going to try anymore!” It was more a function of laziness. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of muscling my way into conversations.
So what did I do instead? I listened. A lot.
It’s one of those quirks of fate that carried on into my adult life. I’ve always been the type who did more listening than talking. But had I been the oldest child, I’m sure I would have become more opinionated and assertive in making sure my voice was heard. The vagaries of life.
For most of my adulthood I felt that this listening rather than “opining” thing was weak. That I was being passive.
Becoming a listener rather than a talker
But the further I travel on the spiritual path, the more it’s dawned on me that I lucked out on this one. Because Eckhart is right: The passionate pushing of views is all ego. It’s “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
And anybody who knows anything about true wisdom knows that the deepest beings of history have recommended listening over talking. Heard any of these?
“Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.” Tao te Ching
“If we were meant to talk more than listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” Mark Twain
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” Dalai Lama
Which isn’t to say that having views and beliefs about things is bad. Of course not. I have views about Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, abortion, capital punishment, parenting, the PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf and thousands of other matters.
What this is about is having to be right. And if there’s anything I hope you take away from this piece it’s that you be on the lookout for when that “I’m right!” muscle flexes inside you. We all know what that feels like.
Then just be aware of it. Feel it. Don’t tangle with it or engage with it. Just feel it…
Then let it go.
It’s fine to let people know your views. But it’s ego if you feel the need to prove yourself right.
And the work of our lives lies in letting go of our egos.
So use your opinion/arguing sessions as opportunities to let go…
PS — I’m 100% sure I’m right about all of this so don’t even think about trying to prove me wrong in the comments section. :-)