Opinions Are Optional

Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker's weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.

via Wikimedia Commons

Don't Believe Everything You See

We all suffer from the brain's ability to trick us into believing things that aren't true. Our own eyesight, the sense that guides us as we move about the world and allows us to gather information, can't even be trusted. To rely on your senses alone is a costly mistake.

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This week's selection comes from Marcus Aurelius's personal notes. He highlights an important truth about the nature of opinions:

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

Meditations, 6.52

What It Means

You do not need to have an opinion on anything. Divisive issues that are out of your control will continue to exist whether you support them or tear them down, discuss them or hide them, love them or hate them. Why bother tormenting yourself and making yourself miserable just so you can be heard?

What to Take From It

It's hard to not have opinions in a world where they're so easily shared and constantly being used to shape ourselves as individuals. After all, our personal perspectives on issues, people, places and things are what drives most of our conversations online and off. Some things - such as politics and social matters - deserve our attention because through well-formed opinions they might be changed.

Other things cannot be swayed so easily, if at all - be it a food with a distinct flavour, a proven scientific fact, someone's rooted personality, or a big budget film trying to live up to the impossible expectations of a multi-generational fan base. Your opinion is not necessary for those things to exist, nor will it alter them in any way. When it comes to things totally out of your control, your opinion means absolutely nothing. It's just a tool you use in an attempt to define yourself to others, hoping that someone will notice and validate you.

Free Your Mind By Having Fewer Useless Opinions

Last week I went to see author John Green while he was on his book tour for Turtles All the Way Down. It was a fun night of emotional speeches, lectures from his brother Hank dressed as a turtle professor (really), dubious advice, and even music, but there was something Green said that really stuck with me.

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But you should be more than your likes and dislikes, friend! Do yourself a favour and let go of the notion that you need to have an opinion on everything. First, free yourself of useless opinions and feel a burden being lifted. No longer does an artistic choice, fact or different perspective have to mean a personal affront to your very being. And when you encounter something you know nothing about, hold off on forming an opinion until you understand it better. It's OK to say, "I don't know enough about this to have an opinion yet." Perhaps later on you can take part in the discussion, if you deem it important. Eventually, that void where a horde of opinions once existed can then be filled with action, knowledge, gratitude and peace.

Bottom line: Opinions are a choice, not a requirement. If you don't like something (and it's out of your control), respect your own time and well-being by moving on. The same goes for if you like something a great deal and feel the need to defend it. Let it go, champion. These battles need no warriors.

You can read Meditations in its entirety for free here.


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