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Clearly just an opinion on the matter of opinions

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By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, 8:50 p.m.

“Don't seek reality, just put an end to opinions.”

-- Zen sage Sheng-ts'an

— — —

If we think about it, we sort of have a love-hate relationship with opinions -- our own and those of others.

For that reason, the quote above intrigues me.

This guy wasn't saying to give up opinions, and therefore is -- in my opinion -- encouraging us not to take our opinions too seriously so they don't obscure what is real in life.

On a global scale held-fast opinions writ large lead to war, but that is a discussion well beyond my pay grade.

But when it comes down to it, opinions are what we most write about (electronically or on paper) and talk about in person or on TV or on the radio and it is a little like running fast in order to stay in place.

If I criticize your opinion or someone criticizes mine, we might get angry.

How foolish!

If I say it is a nice day, is that a fact or an opinion? Most likely an opinion to at least some part of the population.

I remember an exercise in a high school class -- I forget the exact subject -- in which we learned about debating.

We would be assigned a common debate topic: Renting a home as opposed to buying one.

One group would take one side and another group would take the other.

After arguing our positions, we would be told to take the opposing side and make the best argument for that.

What a brilliant idea; too bad we don't do that with the real-deal debates of today.

Think if the nation's opposing parties were forced to make the other side's campaign case?

I guess that would put real meaning in that the old adage about walking a mile in someone else's shoes.

So are opinions good or bad (can you answer that factually without offering an opinion)?

There is a lot to be said for the positive side of opinions.

Surely, scientists, who generally claim to be moved only by hard facts, have formed opinions that in the very least motivated their inquiries and thereafter some great discoveries.

Opinions — however much based or not based on fact — allow us to know one another.

But there are lots of negatives, too. That pesky war thing I mentioned, but also opinions formed based on pre-determined views about a political argument or a person.

Facts, when it comes down to it, are hard to come by. Reporters learn that early on. In covering a story, they must come to rely on what people say. They must judge a source's credibility, but that already gets into opinion. They develop standards that they hope will stand up.

Often readers bring opinions formed earlier to their consideration of a news story about a controversial issue and therefore find the story biased. It may be – inadvertently we would hope — but are they the best judges?

As I was thinking about this recurring internal dialogue I have with opinion and fact and while I was driving on my way to the office, I saw a little blond-headed boy standing in a yard studying a lawn tractor. And I concluded he was a good example of seeing life unfiltered by opinion.

In the few seconds that he caught my attention, he was standing, seemingly mesmerized by the tractor, the engine and seat, steering wheel and tires.

And I thought, he is looking at that machine without any predetermined notions. Perhaps he doesn't know the names of many of the parts he is looking at, rather he is looking just at the whole without thought to wanting to buy it or sell it, to determine if that tractor is better or worse than any other, nor caring perhaps even who owns it.

Children can achieve such clear vision – without opinion — at least for a short while in their lives.

At least that is one of my opinions on the matter.

Is it right? I don't know; maybe I don't even care.

At that is the point, I guess.

How many political experts do you ever hear say, “I don't know”?

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with Leader Times News Editor Mike O'Hare, write to the Leader Times, P.O. Box 978, Kittanning, PA 16201 or via e-mail to

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