I’ve come to the conclusion that I hold a lot of “theoretical” opinions; my views are more abstract than concrete. I firmly believe them inside my own mind, when I say them, but they don’t always translate into the real world.
They also change with life experience. As I encounter more people, things, ideas, and places, the old views that once defined me shift, evolve, and fade away. It makes me wonder, if I have theoretical opinions, or views that might not manifest in real life, does that mean others have them too?
People hold strong views on many things; but would they stand upon those views, confronted with a situation that demanded them to act on them? I suspect that we, as a society, respect most the people who do live and die upon their convictions, whose opinions aren’t theoretical but built into the way they daily interact with the world and the people in it. Since we’re all human, even the best of us will have flaws, blind spots, and places where our lofty ideals don’t exactly match our behavior. We might aim to love our enemies, but be tempted to wave our fist at the person who just cut us off in traffic.
In some instances, it’s a very good thing if our opinions are theoretical; if everyone acted on their most ruthless, mean-spirited or detached opinions in real life, the world would be much worse off than it is. Think about it, what did the Nazi leadership do but make theoretical opinions (devaluing “lesser people”) into reality? Others have stood upon their convictions and tried to make their strong views manifest in the real world… to end slavery or abuse, liberate nations and peoples, or inspire others to greatness, many of them willing to lay down their life for a cause; Gandhi’s peaceful protests, Martin Luther King’s demands for racial equality, even Jesus’ statement of “love those who persecute you.”
Since Lent is upon us, it seems fair to reflect upon Christ. Whatever you think of him, whether you believe he is who he says he was or not, you cannot deny he lived what he preached; he urged others to forgive and forgave himself (while hanging on a cross); he denounced those who valued the temple over fellow human beings, and gave generously of all he had. His views weren’t theoretical, but used each day, in how he interacted with others.
It’s hard to do that. I might set out with the best of intentions (“I’m going to be kind to everyone today!”) only to get caught up in my own thoughts, and ignore the fact that the person next to me in line has worries, fears, hopes, dreams, loves, and feelings just like me. I might say “life is precious,” but do I live like it is? Do I act like every interaction with another living creature is the most amazing gift?
I’m going to strive in the coming year to make my opinions less theoretical, and if they don’t match my actions, to either change my actions to reflect my views, or alter my views to match my actions. I think the greatest test of whether our opinions are good or not is to imagine them taking place in the real world; and if it doesn’t benefit us, society, our family or friends in some way, to let them go.
The old saying, “Actions speak louder than words” is true. Words are cheap, and sometimes poorly thought out, but our actions, how we treat others, define us.