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Thinklens article

The Terrain of Points and Opinions

When I hear an opinion being discussed with passion, the speaker is usually presenting a lopsided view of the situation. Something like this:


What’s not made clear by the speaker is the thing which makes their point real in the eyes of their listeners is the subtle, emotional points they’re making in support of it, which, if examined with diligent effort, would make the situation look more like this:

points supporting a larger point

If you take the effort to make a few counter points on your own, taking the time to flesh out a story about why someone might hold a counter belief, the situation can gradually start to look something like this:

things balance out

And then, if you reevaluate the situation, taking care to consider how you truly feel about each side and where you stand regardless of other people’s opinions, you might find yourself feeling the most comfortable somewhere in the middle, not fully committed to either side.

life is not made up of facts

At this point in your examination, you might start to get an eerie feeling that perhaps the terrain you’re now exploring is much bigger and more malleable than you originally thought.

The dichotomous view that the speaker presented at the start can start to look like an effect of a particular vantage point — instead of being based solely on facts.

At this point, you could decide to take the courageous step to look at things from an entirely different vantage point, which could cause the terrain to shift and expand again.

so many ways of seeing

This constant shifting can start to feel a little overwhelming. You can start to feel a little lost and confused, which, in the realm of thought and idea, is a particularly unsettling feeling.

Perhaps you’ll even get caught up in a temporary loop of doubts, thinking for a moment that perhaps nothing in the realm of the mind is solid.

However, after some time, you will probably come to the idea that what you are doing is completely sane and logical. Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to fully explore the terrain of their mind and the options they have to pick from before starting down the rode of choosing one opinion over another?

Once you call this to mind, it can be easier to see that what usually makes an opinion seem real or true is the emotional force that you associate with its subtler points. For example, if you were exploring your thoughts about some activity, say soccer or baseball, you might think back to the last time you played.

If you let go of your attachments to certain views and emotions, however, and take a little time to consider all of the people, ideas, and feelings influencing you, the terrain around this particular issue can start to loosen up and feel more like an interconnected web… and less like a seesaw leaning more one way than another.

a web

This feeling of interconnectedness is beautiful. It can be a beautiful experience to stop and watch yourself as you feel around inside of it, looking for where you feel like you fit among all of the various points and opinions and those of everyone you know. You can see and feel how your opinions about things shift with attention and change texture depending on where you go and explore.

Gradually, as things loosen up and you learn to treat your opinions as just opinions (instead of assuming they’re hard and solid like perhaps you were doing before), you can almost feel the significance of some of your larger opinions shrinking, as if giving less credence to smaller opinions weakens the power that all opinions have.

as equals

This is an interesting place because you can really start to see how there’s much less at stake here than you once thought.

It can sometimes feel like your whole life or identity is at stake in certain conversations, but allowing yourself the freedom to move in and out of the flow can feel like learning how to swim on your own.

Once you start swimming, it might feel like you’ll have to swim forever, never finding solid ground…

This feeling of swimming can give you an appreciation for why it feels so clean and safe to speak in terms of dichotomies, as if the act of opining a division in the realm of ideas automatically creates some solid ground to stand on.

But the more you swim, the more this world opens up to you. And fear is replaced by a desire to trace back to the foundations of every opinion.

the ocean

This process of learning about the terrain of a conversation is more of an intuitive process than one that can be conducted on a purely logical level. It can leave you feeling emotionally shaken.

At this point, especially if you’ve rushed through all of this, things can start to feel pretty congested, like there’s nowhere you can go to get a better view of how things fit together.

It can feel like everything, every thought, every opinion, is a burden you have to carry.

It can even feel like you sometimes lose track of where you stand altogether. Sometimes, when I get into a spot like this, I want to scream and yell.

Gradually, though, your thoughts will slow down and you’ll start to refocus on the world around you.

Everyone is still here and this has all only been a conversation.


Things get confusing because everyone involved isn’t just bringing themselves into the conversation, but, also, the terrain of their opinions, including everyone they know and everything they think they know is significant to everyone they know.

And everyone has their own experiences, memories, relationships, and ideas to navigate, just like you.

Each person who takes part in a discussion represents more than just the person standing there. They’re a wealth of experience and emotion, always growing, always learning.

Each individual is a multitude. A multitude among multitudes.

combined experience

And the network we create is not our own, but set against a backdrop of ever-expanding, ever-evolving networks.

The idea that we will one day arrive at an opinion that represents some kind of final truth is an illusion.

Because, when you trace things back far enough, there are no answers. Everyone is equal in this respect, in the realm of thought. I could claim that what really matters is the connections, the network, the metaphorical reality we create with our relationships.

But this would be disingenuous, as all I can say with complete honesty is that I like traveling through it all and seeing the tides rise and the landscape shift. As if the world wasn’t destined to make sense for us at all… but it sometimes gives us a glimpse.

the world