Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The value of an opinion

We all know that part of the value of an opinion lies in the holder of that opinion.   After all, if your tone-deaf neighbor loves your singing - well, that really says nothing about your singing, and only says a little about your neighbor.  Your neighbor might just be trying to be polite, or maybe your neighbor does love your singing.  As for your singing -- who knows?  It might be absolutely horrible, breathtakingly beautiful, or anything in between.  And frankly, it wouldn't be any different if your tone-deaf neighbor hated your singing.

So that's the unskilled opinion-holder, the opinion holder with no ability.  These opinion holders may be wonderful people, and their opinion might have value in that it makes you feel good, but they will never be able to render a truly valuable opinion on the topic at hand.

Then you have your biased opinion holders.  Your mother loves absolutely everything you wear, while your ex-boyfriend thinks you may as well put on an old potato sack, because nothing you wear looks good. And in all likelihood, the truth is somewhere in between.  While it may be true that beauty (and lack of beauty) is in the eyes of the beholder, that doesn't do much good when you're trying to determine whether or not that dress really does make you look fat - or fabulous.

By definition, if you are seeking someone's opinion, the issue is subjective.  I don't need your opinion to know whether I'm taller than my sister, I just need a tape measure.  I don't need your opinion to know if I weigh more now than I did a year ago, I just need a scale.  These aren't opinions, they are facts.

And of course there are many things that are hybrids.  Is Tiger Woods a better golfer than I am?  Absolutely.  That's not an opinion, it's not subjective, it's a fact.  But is Tiger a better golfer than Rory McIlroy?   That depends... which year, which particular game, and what criteria are you using to determine 'better'?  There's your hybrid situation.

But let's get back to the purely subjective.  For any book that you like, song that you like, even food that you like, you can be certain that - somewhere out there, there's someone who does not like it.  And vice versa.

So how do you determine the value of an opinion on something that's truly just a matter of opinion? You look at your opinion-holder, of course  (which is the same as saying 'consider the source').. and you gather opinions from multiple sources.    And you try to weed out the unskilled, and the biased.  And sometimes... just sometimes...  the opinion holder  has an opinion that does not match their previous history of opinions on similar issues.  This - THIS - is an opinion with tremendous value.  And it's not just this stray, 'contrary-to-previous-opinions' opinion that suddenly has value....  This contrary opinion renders value to ALL previous opinions of that opinion holder.. this opinion holder is not as biased as you might have believed.

Yes, I know.  Your mother always told you 'if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all'.  But sometimes, saying something that is less than nice, can be the nicest gift of all.

I know that there are many out there who like Lipton, or Twinings, or PG Tips, but in my opinion, the best tea is Typhoo.  Of course, I also like Bewleys a lot, which adds value to my opinion about Typhoo. Having said that, I think I'll have a cup of tea -- no, make that two.. one of Typhoo, and one of Bewleys -- while I consider which one I like better.  Or at least which one I like better, today.

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