My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…James 1:19
Sometimes we say things that are well-meaning but untrue. We say these things without much thought or reflection because in the moment we’re trying to care for people’s hearts. Yet, when I hear some of these statements, the lack of truth becomes glaring. Just like some people’s skin gets irritated by wool sweaters, my brain gets itchy and irritated when people say well-meaning cliches that aren’t true.
For instance, we like to say things like, “There is no bad question” to help students overcome their insecurities about asking questions. But every teacher knows that statement isn’t true. There are bad questions. Like, right after you give students the syllabus for the class and then someone asks a question that is answered in the first few lines of the syllabus. Bad question.
Similarly, it’s common in our society to hear someone say, “Everyone’s opinion is valid.” But what do people really mean by that? What do they mean by the word valid? Sure, everyone has a right to their own opinion, but does that make every opinion equally valid? Is your neighbor’s opinion about that growth on your skin just as valid as the dermatologist’s? I don’t think so. Not everyone’s opinion should carry the same weight.
When people want their opinion “validated” they usually just mean they want to be respected enough to be listened to. And that’s a good thing. Mostly people want to be validated as a person. They want to know that they themselves are valuable, regardless of what their opinion is. And, again, that’s a good thing. But to me, validating the worth of a person is different than calling all opinions valid.
Here’s what valid actually means: having a sound basis in logic or fact; reasonable or cogent. With that definition in mind, it’s clear to me that not every opinion has a sound basis in fact. Not every opinion is equally informed or cogent.
This is why, for me, not every opinion is equally valid. Uninformed and weakly formed opinions are everywhere, but they are not as valid as an informed opinion that took time to develop. I like how leadership guru Carey Nieuwhof said it:
“…a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. We live in an age of strongly held, weakly formed opinions. Too many people’s worldviews are three questions away from collapsing. So learn broadly and be slow to draw conclusions. Wisdom takes time and input.”Carey Nieuwhof
And we could rightly add that valid opinions take time and input. Valid opinions are well-thought-out, well-researched, informed opinions. Forming a strong, valid opinion is like smoking meat. There is no short cut. It has to be “low and slow” or it’s going to lack truth and wisdom.
So, no, everyone’s opinion is not valid. You have to earn the right to have a valid opinion about a subject and that means doing your homework*. It means doing more than just listening to one podcast, Googling it, or reading WebMD. People want their weakly formed and uninformed opinions validated, but we need to stop doing this for people. It plays into a kind of deception that pretends all opinions are weighted equally, and they’re not.
I have lots of uninformed opinions about a lot of things, but humility dictates that I pay deference to those who have spent more time formulating their opinions on a subject. Humility says that I need to listen to people with informed opinions when mine is uninformed. If I demand that my uninformed or weakly formed opinion be validated, then it usually means I’m operating out of insecurity or arrogance rather than humility.
*Note: I do believe there is at least one exception to this truth (if not more). In situations where a team might be brainstorming, innovating, creating, or experimenting with something new, sometimes the most helpful opinions are the least informed opinions. During times of innovation, sometimes people with well-informed opinions about a subject can get stuck in what they already know. This makes it difficult for them to think creatively. So, during times of experimentation or innovation, validating the weakly formed or uninformed opinions in the room might be necessary.