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Ask Marilyn: Opinions Versus Facts
Holly W. of Gilbert, Arizona, writes:
Marilyn: You once wrote about the tendency to spin things and ignore the fact that sometimes things are black and white, and there is only one answer to a question. If you know what I am talking about, could you please reprint it here? It was the best statement on this that I have ever seen, and I have been looking for it since. I wish I had saved it!
Sure. A reader wrote, "You said, 'it's damaging to our intellectual abilities to believe that too many things are matters of opinion.' I have been told on numerous occasions that basically everything is a matter of opinion. Although I heartily disagree, I could never articulate my reasons. Can you explain?"
Here's my reply: Plenty of things are matters of opinion. But others are matters of fact, instead. Say you and your neighbor have just seen a movie and are about to head to your favorite restaurant. You liked the movie, and your neighbor didn't—that's opinion. You say Route A is the shortest way to the restaurant, and your neighbor says it isn't—that's fact. In other words, one of you is right, and the other is wrong.
This generalizes all the way through life's most major issues. Not knowing the difference between opinion and fact makes it difficult to make good decisions. If you believe too much opinion to be fact instead, you'll be self-righteous and intellectually narrow. If you believe too much fact to be opinion, you'll be gullible and intellectually illogical. Say that you and your neighbor agree there should be less poverty in our country. You propose Plan A; he proposes Plan B. These are not matters of opinion; these are matters of fact—one plan will work better than another plan. (They may also work equally well, of course.) And if more people knew the difference between opinion and fact, we'd choose better leaders, our leaders would make better decisions, and this country could make real progress toward our common goals instead of spending so much time arguing.