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Lack of opinion is not such an easy task

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Sad news

When I learned this week of the death of Bill Mateer of Manor Township it was sad news to be sure.

Many may know that Bill routinely provided us with photos for our “Remember When?” feature that often appears on this page.

Moreover, one of Bill's chief lifetime interests was in documenting the changes in our area. More often than not, if a building was being razed or erected in our area, Bill was there with his camera to record the event. He took photos from the ground and from the air (in a friend's plane). He loved his hometown and could not have been happier to share that love. There is always room in our lives for such people.

I first knew Bill when I was a cub reporter at the Leader Times in the early 1970s and he was the director of advertising. He was always well dressed and professional, and it made a then young reporter know that he was joining a respectable profession.

Bill was cheerful, always polite and friendly. And I will miss his visits to the office. He always left me smiling and I will do so whenever I think of him.

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By Michael O'Hare
Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

I woke up on the day I wrote this (though there may be some doubt among those who know me that I am ever awake) and thought to myself:

I will go through this day having absolutely no opinions about anything.

About 20 minutes later, after showering, shaving and brushing my teeth, I thought to myself:

“Hey, I am doing pretty well as this no-opinion thing!”

And at that precise moment, I was dead in the water.

Opinions are a nuisance, they get in the way of seeing the world as it really is.

Everyone with an opinion on something seems to consider himself or herself an expert. I find people without firm opinions to be much more interesting.

Opinions have intrigued me since I got into this newspaper game 40 years ago.

How does one stay aloof from their opinions?

It is seemingly impossible. They are like water, just flowing in and out of your brain. You can't stop the damn things.

In discussing with a university journalism class the matter of objectivity, I told them complete impartiality is a bit of a myth.

We strive for objectivity in the reporting, but there is a slight degree of it lost simply in undertaking to do a story. They looked miffed, but I hoped that was just because they were thinking about it and not that I was completely inarticulate on the matter. Of course, that would just have been their opinions.

If you are thinking about it, then in all likelihood you are forming opinions right now.

It snowed Wednesday morning (remember?) and we looked out and said “that's beautiful.” We slid while traversing the two-lane road and it was, well let's say it was “less beautiful.”

Which one of those two opinions was the truth?

Neither. Just opinions, the kind of thoughts that jump about our heads all day long.

Much of what we in our heads during our waking moments are opinions. They can make us happy or anxious or whatever, but they are simply brain works.

We can criticize the weather guy for his reports when the next day hits and things are not as he predicted. But he was just offering an opinion based on the data on hand.

How do we separate fact from fiction – or opinions – when taking in the everyday world?

If you say that you “love” something, I think it could be fact or opinion. I love my wife, children, granddaughters, others in the family and some friends without reservation. It is somewhere in me.

But I could love something for what good it does for me, like a warm summer day, and I think the first example is of a fact and the second is of fiction – but that's just my opinion.

Complicated, hey?

If a reporter covers a fire she may report the estimate given by a fire chief on the cost of the damage and that is fact, that the chief made that estimate. The estimate itself is informed opinion.

But if the reporter says that the fire lighted the night sky for miles around, well that is a bit of opinion since we doubt that she drove for miles around the fire to ascertain the degree to which the light was seen. It is logical that the fire did that, but still an opinion.

So, it you see where I am going with this completed subject, then you have a better opinion of it than I do.

So I will shut up, i.e keep my opinions to myself.

A Zen sage is quoted as having said: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

So if I can't stop opining, I at least won't cherish the results.

Meandering appears Fridays. To share your thoughts on this column (or on most anything) with 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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