Written by Allison Perry. Media by Kelsey Middleton.
What is an opinion?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an opinion is “a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.” While the definition of the word “opinion” makes it seem as though an opinion is quite simple and harmless, opinions can actually be complicated. Many of the opinions people hold come from multiple sources, and while many opinions are harmless, others can be dangerous.
Where do opinions come from?
Some opinions we hold are personal opinions that are formed by our sensitivity towards certain things or the way certain things may make us feel, whether those feelings are positive or negative. For example, 60-degree weather may make one person shiver, so that person’s opinion will be that it is cold, while the person next to them may feel completely comfortable in 60-degreeweather, so that person’s opinion would be that the weather is just right.
Some opinions we hold come from those who raised us. For example, if someone is raised by their family to follow a certain religion, then their opinion will most likely be that the religion they and their family follow is the one, true religion.
Opinions we hold may also come from society. One example of societal opinions is the opinion that is formed by beauty standards. Each society sets a certain beauty standard and it spreads widely, causing many people to hold the opinion that if someone does not fit the beauty standard that society has set, then they are not beautiful.
When does an opinion become dangerous?
An opinion becomes dangerous when it forms a prejudice. Simply Psychology writer Saul McLeodsays a prejudice is “an unjustified or incorrect attitude (usually negative)…” Take the example I used in the previous section of a person whose opinion is that their religion is the one, true religion. This opinion can form a prejudice. Because this person believes their religion is the one, true religion, they may be prejudiced toward people who follow a different religion.
While simply being prejudiced is dangerous, because negative thoughts and feelings make for a terrible life for the person who holds the prejudice, it becomes even more dangerous when it transforms from an attitude into an action or a behavior.
An action based on a prejudice is discrimination. McLeod says, “Discrimination is the behavior or actions, usually negative, toward an individual or group of people, especially on the basis of sex/race/social class, etc.” One example of discrimination that McLeod gives is the Holocaust. “In Germany and German-controlled lands, Jewish people had to wear yellow stars to identify themselves as Jews. Later, the Jews were placed in concentration camps by the Nazis.”
Ultimately, having an opinion is natural, completely acceptable, and even necessary for individuality. Our opinions are a part of what allows each of us to be unique. However, many people like to call what is actually a prejudice an opinion, when it is, in fact, only something that came from an opinion.
Recently, in the midst of a conversation, I had someone tell me that the reason so much is going wrong is because no one is afraid to share their opinion these days. I have to argue against that. People have been acting upon their prejudices, which they like to call “opinions,” since the beginning of time. So, really, everything has always been going wrong, it only seems like it’s just now happening because everyone has access to the news.
There is a way, however, to end prejudices and discrimination: proper education.