Friday, July 15, 2011

If It’s Like I Think It Is, And I Think It Is

How much is your opinion worth . . . or mine? It would be futile to try to count the number of times I heard a student in my high school classroom or between classes, in the hallway, declare, “My opinion is as good as yours.” Or, my favorite: “This is America; everyone’s opinion is a good as the next guy’s.”

Well we just don’t believe that for one minute. There are those whose opinions carry great weight with us and those to whom we ascribe no value at all. The factors that go into making an opinion credible are legion, and some that we lean heavily on are not worth the air it takes for the opinionator to utter them. A two year-old toddler may be more credible than her mother if you are trying to discern what happened to the doll she was recently playing with. But on most matters, Mom’s opinion outweighs that of the infant. The opinion of your crazy aunt, regarding the cause of the persistent pain in your chest may be offered very sincerely, but you’ll be wise to regard the Cardiologist’s diagnosis above hers.

Television and the Internet have increased the ability of snake oil salesmen (and saleswomen) to reach us with their fabulous remedies and their philosophies for living. It is nearly impossible for the average person to weight the value of the opinions offered by these “experts”. For those with less than average reasoning acumen . . . well, they are at the mercy of the ad men and hucksters.

It is serious enough when those with limited financial resources are milked by the unscrupulous purveyors of worthless (worth less than advertised) merchandise, but a far greater danger lies in the proliferation of expert opinion on the web, on the radio, or on Television. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are just the most visible examples of “opinion makers” about whom no one asks, “Why does their opinion matter? What have they done in life that gives them the credibility to speak to the nation on any subject that comes to their mind?”

And now we have a twenty year-old unwed mother who was impregnated in a tent while too drunk to know what was happening to her, making tens of thousands of dollars promoting abstinence and virtuous living. We should all hope that she has thoroughly and permanently reformed her own behavior, but it is a little too soon, in this writer’s opinion, for her to be touting her success story in a memoir. She will, no doubt, reap additional thousands of dollars, and perhaps some television contracts as a result of her notoriety. But does she really have anything to say to the thousands of young girls who are about to enter motherhood without the hope of a book contract or television exposure? How much is her opinion worth in the struggle to raise a child in the slums of L.A., or even Anchorage?

My father was an uneducated, but savvy tinkerer. He could figure out a lot of things, just by connecting what he knew with what he imagined might be true. One day, while arguing for a particular point of view he made a statement that has become famous in our family. He said, “If it is like I think it is, and I think it is . . .” That kind of “reasoning” carried Dad through a long and, for an uneducated man, successful life. But it is rather scary to think how far he might have gone had he lived into the era of 24/7 mass media and Internet. No doubt he would have had a daily show to rival that of Oprah, Home Improvement, Car Talk, and The 700 Hundred Club combined.

And when the time came to write his book (ghost-written, of course) the title surely would have evolved into , If I Know What I Think I Know – And I Know I Do – You Can Trust Me With Your Wallet And Your Life.

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