August 22, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Trouble may begin with ‘my opinion’

Cynthia DewesIn my opinion (the operative word here), people are of two types: those who have opinions about everything, and those who don’t.

The latter occurs either because people don’t have enough of a life on which to base opinions or else they’re asleep. This is a harsh assessment, to be sure, but it’s my opinion. No one need agree with me.

When you have opinions, or even worse, when you express them, you run the risk of being hated, dismissed as a noodle or punished in some way. Much as the opinionated hate to admit it, opinions may be wrong or evil, or just plain nutty. Having opinions carries consequences.

Some people have opinions but don’t rant on about them all the time. They save the airing of their beliefs for the clinches, and that’s good. They are the strong, silent types who can quiet a crowd or heal division with their wisdom just at the vital moment.

Entire families may be opinionated as mine is. At a recent family gathering, a heated discussion arose about the depth of young people’s ignorance, or bad parenting, or political hypocrisy, or something. I forget what.

Voices raised, eyes flashed and there was even a pounding of the table now and then as points were proven. A couple of sons became more and more heated, while a daughter-in-law, grandparents and grandchildren tried to chime in when someone had to take a breath. We were having a great time.

Suddenly, I realized that a fairly new grandson-in-law was witnessing this melee and might be critical of it, if not scared to think what crazies he had married himself into. I apologized for our ardor.

Never mind, he said, my family is equally opinionated. They yell a lot, too. He chuckled about a brother’s wife who had been intimidated by them at first. Cheered by this reassurance, we carried on until we were tired and it was time to go home.

I like to think that my opinions are based upon experience, reliable sources, prayer and good will toward (wo)men. But also, I think many of them come from admiring the opinions of people I’ve respected: my parents, teachers, clergy and religious friends, other friends and neighbors.

There’s also reading. When I read a cogent argument for this or that idea, I mull it over and compare it to what I’ve already thought or learned. These ideas may come from novels, magazine articles, spiritual books, whatever. It seems to me, the more “catholic” our reading, the more truly “Catholic” we can become.

Listening is essential. Not just hearing, but listening. Especially when we’re opinionated, we need to take time to listen to what others have to say. We may be shocked to find that an opinion which is diametrically opposed to our own has real merit. We may even change our minds!

The most opinionated guy I know is a grandson who’s smart, thoughtful and totally confident that he is right about whatever he believes. He is always surprised when we challenge his opinions because he values ours. He loves us and suspects we might be right in some way, deluded as we are.

Most of all, I think, we need to listen to God and determine God’s will. We all know how to do that: prayer, meditation, communal worship, engaging in charitable works or implementing what St. Thérèse of Lisieux called the “little way.”

Because, in the end, it’s God’s opinion that counts.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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