Spider web – part 1

If someone were to ask us if we have strong opinions most likely we would say: “perhaps a few, but for the most part I am open and flexible. I respect others’ opinions but mostly I rely on facts”. But is this actually the truth of the matter?

Let us look at the avalanche of examples below:

I can’t stand cats but dogs are wonderful, they have a sense of loyalty – polar bears are disappearing because of global warming – little men like Napoleon, Stalin or Sarkozy have big egos – smoking causes lung and throat cancer – the earth revolves around the sun – Bach is the most wonderful composer of all time – George W. Bush is an idiot manipulated by the oil and weapon industries -I can’t relate to computers, they’re too technical. I’m more artistically minded – drinking a litre of water a day is good for you – German cars are the best – we are the chosen people, the holy book tells me so – I love atonal music – we are being poisoned by toxic chemical residues in our food – we are right in attacking that country for the security of the world – I have to go on a diet. – my two dogs, Romeo and Schtroumph, know when I’m unhappy – Buddha is the greatest man in history – statistics show that those foreigners are using up all our social assistance money – junk food (like we eat at MacDonald’s) is responsible for obesity in the world – I love chocolate cake – we have to go on strike, no one can take away our rights – oysters are good for sex – sugar is harmful to the health – after a while country life is boring – Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world – I can’t stand people who do not keep their promises – GMO’s will lead to ecological catastrophe – and so on, and so on, and so on……………. Can we find ourselves uttering one of these opinions?

I would not be surprised if someone might protest saying that the examples above are a mélange of value judgments, views, opinions and facts. It is true, but there is one unifying factor: We BELIEVE in them. We believe that they are true. And what is most important, is the strength of our belief. It is the intensity of this strength which propels us through our lives, making us stick to some beliefs tenaciously for better or for worse, or discard others more easily because we do not consider them terribly important . The belief in the truth of our opinions, the utilitarian as well as the social, has a tremendous impact on our lives.

Utilitarian opinions tend to be conclusions which come from our personal observation:
the opinion that we should pay our telephone/internet bill on time can prevent potentially unpleasant consequences – thanks to the opinion that during a rainfall one gets wet, we choose to use an umbrella instead of wearing sun glasses – the opinion that the fuel gauge reflects reality helps us to decide to fill up before we run out of gas in the middle of the expressway – the opinion that a hot burner on the stove is potentially dangerous can prevent our children from being burned.

Opinions of the social domain tend to be less factual experientially but rely more on others’ authority (which is in accordance with a socially recognized system), be it the scientist, the politician, the expert, the media, the holy man or the written law. When we express the opinion that the earth revolves around the sun we are supported by the authority of numerous scientists and physicist beginning with Copernicus and Galileo. Because they are authorities of great caliber and universally recognized our belief is strong and unquestionable.

Belief and acceptance of these theories can be subject to change as we can see by the evolution theory. The majority of people believe that this theory is valid because of the authority of Darwin and the many other scientists that followed and who confirmed and expanded this theory. It is taught in the majority of schools and popularized in books and in the media. However, today there exist a group of researchers, who call themselves Creationists, who, with great zeal believe and are in the process of proving that the Darwinian theory is flawed. Their premise is that what we call evolution is the result of a design built into life itself by the great Creator. In the past, such differing beliefs sometimes resulted in being burned at the stake.

Opinions are all pervasive, occupying perhaps the most important place in our lives. We do not often engage in such reflection, for the simple reason that opinions are so omnipresent in our life that they are considered too common and ordinary to deserve any special consideration. In the same manner, we do not pay much attention to our breathing or heart beat unless there is a problem. However, when we take a closer look we find that every action is based on an opinion, personal which is based on our experiences or social. They constantly reinforced either positively or even negatively. In spite that majority of our opinions we adopt from outside influences without even noticing, we identify ourselves with them forgetting where they came from…

Opinions are not only passive concepts – they have a gigantic, unimaginable impact on the totality of our lives. We will discuss their role by examining two important domains of our lives: the domain of emotions and the domain of decision making.

Emotions. Despite the fact that we consider some of our emotions as spontaneous or others as unavoidable responses to external situations, all of them, are based upon opinions. It can be said even more bluntly: ‘without opinions emotions would not arise in any form’. Emotions by their nature are the energetic manifestations of mind – each of us experiences them constantly. Even a person who considers himself or herself as quiet, rational and well balanced, experiences emotions no less than anybody else. These energies are provoked by various phenomena, both internal, like a thought or memory, and external situations. Let us analyze a few examples showing the intimate relation between emotions and opinions.

“I am driving to an important meeting, I left home very early to make sure that I will get there on time … and here I stand in a mega traffic jam. There is nothing I can do.” – I am furious at everything and everybody including myself. According to my opinion there was enough time to get there but the reality – the traffic jam – proves that my opinion was incorrect. The combination of both, my opinion and the traffic jam provokes my frustration and anger.

“I know that Sabine is prettier than me but I’m not really jealous because she’s also dumb. But at yesterday’s party, when I saw her flirting and seducing almost everyone (while hardly anyone noticed me), that was already too much. I left without saying good bye.” – The opinion about Sabine’s prettiness is normally compensated by the opinion about her lack of intelligence so it stays dormant. But the incident of Sabine flirting and me being ignored, combined with the opinions about her and my own looks, ignites uncontrollable jealousy.

“During the last meeting Henry started to lecture me on telemarketing, my area of excellence. I couldn’t stand his gall so you can imagine my response. I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of his ideas.” – Here the opinion about ones superiority was confronted by the incident of Henry challenging it. That was enough to provoke an outburst of pride/arrogance.

“You know how good I look in red. I adore red. Imagine, a few days ago I dropped into this little boutique on Marion street and there it was – a red poncho from Paraguay. The red of my dreams, vivid, vibrant, South American. I really didn’t need it, I’m a bit short of money but… I couldn’t resist and I bought it.” – The opinion about how wonderful is the colour red rests dormant as an esthetic preference until it encounters the dream red poncho which creates an explosion of desire to posses it.

“ Oh it’s quite normal that there is water under the sink, it appears and disappears, so I don’t need to worry. Just wipe it up, it’s not a big deal”. A few days later I find that the puddle has grown quite a bit, but I still tell myself that there is nothing to worry about. – The opinion that water under sink is a benign situation, even when confronted with the fact that the leak has grown, produces the emotion of active ignorance/stupidity. As we know this state of ignorance remains until we are confronted with something more serious, such as a flood in the kitchen, and then we are forced to wake up and act.

Decisions. Our decisions are based and are directly the result of our opinions. This statement is not too controversial or surprising but we rarely fully realize the role of opinions in the mechanism of decision making.

Our decisions range from the minute, almost insignificant, like: what toothpaste to buy, what temperature to keep the thermostat, when I normally take a shower, what time I usually go to bed – to medium size, like: what colour to paint the bedroom, what Christmas present to buy for Mum and Dad, who to invite to the party – and finally the major ones, such as, should I take this job, whom to propose for promotion, should we get divorced considering our two children, what university to choose for our son and finally what place to choose for oneself at the cemetery.

All these decisions are based on opinions: The chosen toothpaste is the one we believe to be the best or the least expensive. We believe that having the thermostat too high makes the house too dry. We like to take a shower in the morning because we feel it is refreshing. We feel ‘light grey’ is a nice quiet colour for the bedroom and it goes very well with the carpet. Mum and Dad don’t want anything but I think they need a new TV. Theirs is getting really old, etc………

An individual decision does not occur in isolation. As a rule it is preceded by a chain of decisions and produces other chains. For example, before we reach the decision about which Christmas gift to buy we are confronted by a tsunami of questions, and choices all involving beliefs or opinions: “Should I buy anything for Mum and Dad? They told me they don’t want me to waste my money but I want to buy them a gift, something really nice this year, after all how many Christmas’ do they have left? What can I get them? I have the perfect gift. A TV. Their set is about to go on the fritz. But what kind of TV set should I get? Which one is the best for the money? Should it be plasma or LCD? How much money can I afford to spend? What is the best store to find a good bargain? What about Uncle George and Aunt Mary? I should get them a gift too. Probably I should get a gift for Harry. I don’t know him but he’ll be there for Christmas.” Before we give this TV set to Mum and Dad there are dozens of other decisions to make and each of them is supported by an opinion.

We generally think that there is an important difference between a decision made rationally or one made impulsively.
If we look closer, though, we find that all of them, without exception, are the end result of opinions based on the belief in their validity.

The examples sited above are more obvious, but many actions, as we said before, barely noticed, that we take for granted, are the result of opinions. We perform them without conscious deliberation, nearly automatically. For example: washing our hands before a meal, or after going to the bathroom – eating lunch at noon – eating with a knife and fork – having 8 hours of sleep at night – turning the light off when we leave a room. These kinds of everyday activity are also based on opinions which are virtually built into our psyche, nearly invisible. Sometimes they are useful and practical, sometimes they represent our subjective value judgments, and sometimes they are the result of social and family conditioning. Whatever their origin though, their power and instantaneousness is sufficient to determine the great majority of our everyday life activities.

It is time to present some conclusions: opinions permeate and saturate our life. We have well established views on almost everything. Everything we experience whether it be animate, inanimate, an object, a thought, whatever we can imagine, has attached to it one, or more often, many opinions. Even when we say: “I don’t know enough to make an opinion” we are getting busy to form one. These opinions are not just concepts which comfortably abide in our consciousness – they control our lives in numerous ways. On the basis of them we decide to be happy because everything goes according to the way we believe it should or we become depressed if otherwise. Opinions define our relations with the world around us in its entirety: from to whom we smile at, to whom we want to kill. They govern our decisions from the insignificant, to life or death matters. Perhaps, the most important opinions are those we have about ourselves. We decide if we are beautiful or ugly, intelligent or stupid, strong or weak, if we are a success or a failure, and ultimately whether we like ourselves or hate ourselves. As we progress in our life, every day we create and accumulate more and more opinions. Some of them can be useful but when opinions replace our natural curiosity, intelligence and spontaneous responsiveness to situations then they become stifling and limiting. Gradually there is less and less room for anything new. Our innate spontaneity become just automatic reactions (governed by opinions), to whatever we encounter. Nothing is fresh anymore, there is less and less space left for discovery, joy and openness.

Opinions are not formed nor act in isolation – they all are interconnected. The metaphor, which comes to mind, is of an artfully constructed spider web. Like an insect in the spider web, in the course of our life, we get more and more entangled. This is because, by their nature, opinions are static whereas life is not. This web is artful because each opinion is very precisely connected to others, each supporting and justifying the other with logic or feelings. The strength of the individual thread is the intensity of the belief in the validity of the opinion.

The following example will illustrate how the web develops and shape our life. Looking outside the window I can see very dark clouds. I have the opinion (emerging from past experiences) that when there are dark clouds in the sky it will most likely rain. From previous experiences I have developed opinion of getting wet when it rains and also from the past comes my belief that if I cover myself I will not get as wet. Consequently I have developed the opinion that when it is raining, my coat and/or my umbrella will prevent me from getting too wet. So now when I see dark clouds I feel I had better wear my raincoat and bring my umbrella to avoid getting wet. To reinforce my opinion that it might rain I look at the weather forecast and indeed the experts tell me there is a 90% chance of rain, therefore I will definitely wear my coat and bring my umbrella. These opinions become important credos through which I relate to the world. So now looking at the dark clouds I tell my child, who is complaining bitterly that she doesn’t want to lug around her umbrella: “Take it! If you don’t, you’re going to get wet and catch a cold.” It has been raining incessantly for the past week. Each day I have had the same unpleasant interaction with my child. I am becoming more and more irritated with the repetition of the situation so my opinion about the rain gain impetus and expands (with the help of expert opinion) into the social arena i.e.: “the weather is getting worse, it never rained all the time like this. It’s obviously the result of global warming”. I can then move further to political opinion: “those capitalists are responsible, their unending greed for profit”. Then we can find ourselves in the midst of ideology: “I hate them. Dialogue and protest don’t work so I am going to kill them. I am going to save the world from evil.”

Our personal spider web is interconnected with the spider webs of others: family, friends, enemies, all forming the intricate webs of country, religion, race, social class, etc….. All together they form a gigantic spider web of the totality of human opinions which becomes our version of reality. The fact that some individual opinions may be completely opposite does not contradict that they are threads of the same spider web. To the contrary: a controversy calling for even stronger beliefs on our part to defend our opinions and consequently reinforces the web. But we must not view ourselves as the fly, a victim of the web. Rather, we are the spider –the constructor because it is we who have created this artwork. We could blame family, society, religion etc. for this situation, but after all, the web consists of our opinions, we are their maker and owner.

We have come to the end. Looking at the picture which is painted by this feuilleton we might come to a painful conclusion that, even by realizing our part in all of this, we are still prisoners of our own making. What to do? How to liberate ourselves and experience the freshness of the moment? Isn’t it impossible? After all we need some opinions to function. These questions and more will be addressed and discussed in the second part of this discourse.


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