When having an opinion about a controversy goes wrong

William Manolarkis

The same scene plays over and over, as though we are living out a real-life “Groundhog Day.”

A highly controversial bill is passed. A famous celebrity appears to get off easy on a crime once again. An athlete experiences yet another scandal. 

Cut to the opening of the floodgates and the formation of an imposing tidal wave of opinion fueled by emotion. Everyone believes he or she has an original thought or perspective to add to the situation, and soon enough, the wave crashes, forming a tumultuous sea of voices saturated with repetitive, base opinions. Eventually, it calms when we come to forget about what occurred, or simply not to care, and the water evaporates, leaving the landscape dry until another ground-shaking event captures our attention. 

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 

But why do we allow ourselves to be defined by this script every single time? Are we actually as susceptible to playing out this superficial narrative as it appears? If so, we are in the midst of a serious crisis, as we have allowed our emotive impulses to take the wheel and cast them as the leading roles in the formation of our moral judgments. Pluralism has spread like wildfire and reshaped the social terrain, as now everyone has an opinion that must not only be shared, but also shouted above those of others, so as to reaffirm to one’s mind that the thought is truly the “right” one. 

This cultural climate can be quite paralyzing, and as Zachary Fine aptly described in his piece for The New York Times in April of last year, the expression “I don’t know” serves as an opt-out clause for many who do not wish to participate in such madness. However, merely evading the question cannot be seen as a viable option in every instance, as it never enables us to progress forward and deprives us of the ability to make appropriate judgments regarding the events that we experience in our lives.

How, then, can we share our opinions on situations without falling prey to our emotions?


Perhaps we should try to assess how we have reached this point in human history prior to attempting to answer such an intricate and multi-faceted question. We need look no further than the development of Twitter, which arguably serves as the king of social media. Hashtags and hot takes run rampant on the application, and it functions as a basin of emotionally driven claims and responses by providing people with the power to rapidly share their thoughts with the world using only 140 characters or fewer. I would posit that the brevity of our tweets, as well as the ease with which we can post them, greatly contributes to the pluralism problem. 

Such a platform caters to underdeveloped, emotive claims, and it has the tremendous capacity to gather individuals like sheep and rally them around a cause that they may not fully understand. Though movements like the #IceBucketChallenge and #BellLetsTalk could do no harm, as they appeared only to be good causes for the benefit of others, those such as #Kony2012 and #JeSuisCharlie also generated similar responses built on emotion.  I would argue that there were those who supported them purely due to the fervid passion that they fostered, rather than doing so after taking the time for themselves to determine whether they were causes worth supporting. We have, in effect, reduced opinion to a matter of how events make us feel, mitigating the influence of reason in our moral judgments and becoming moldable pieces of clay that make decisions based on emotive whim. 

Well, that certainly seems depressing, doesn’t it? How can we break free from this post-modern condition by which we appear to be constricted? One could point to a belief in God as the solution to such a problem, as through a belief in a higher being, one could orient oneself to the moral standard promoted in the religion one believes in, effectively establishing a rigid construct that fends off the deceptive allure of impulsive judgments. In taking God out of the equation, we have to rely on the moral framework that we develop ourselves, which must be formed through the meticulous, conscious self-assessment of one’s beliefs. We become our own gods, and thus impart upon ourselves the overwhelming responsibility of determining what is right and wrong, which can be quite the volatile process, for we can now back any thoughts or opinions that we possess with our reason—a reason that can be quite susceptible to the grasp of emotion, as we have established. 

Thus, I would propose a call to arms against the unfounded opinions and claims that currently dominate society. In the wake of the next headline-grabbing event, do not just turn straight to your smartphone and join the chorus of attention-craving voices. Rather, take some time to really assess what occurred and attempt to learn as much as you can about the matter before developing an opinion on it, as you are most likely not an expert on the subject. Emotion should serve an impetus for us to further understand, not the be-all end-all of our understanding, and when we come to recognize this, maybe then will the recurring scene finally end. 

Roll the credits.