Theoretical Opinions

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.

3 Replies to “Theoretical Opinions”

  1. Nicely stated! One of the things I’ve always noticed is that when we pray with specificity in mind, like “Lord, grant me patience today,” it means that we’re going to end up having our patience tested all day. At least, that’s been my experience, and it’s funny because pastor even mentioned that from the pulpit this morning. We’ll never overcome something or put a theoretical idea into practice if we’re not tested in the real world. Which really kind of sucks, especially when I pray for God to help me handle my anger. Not a fun week, usually!

    1. Your first statement begs the question: did God prompt you to pray for patience, knowing you would need it because of the day’s circumstances, or does God “test” your patience when you ask him to teach you patience?

      The answer, of course, depends on your perspective of God; the former infers you see him as a guiding force, a positive aspect in your life; the second places him in a position where he responds to earnest supplications for self-improvement with (negative) challenges.

      An example of a theoretical opinion:

      The person who rants against illegal aliens, those damn invaders, they should all be thrown out of this country, I don’t give a damn about their feelings!

      But in real life is the most compassionate, tender-hearted, albeit awkward person you’d ever meet, inclined to pick up strays of all kinds, who would never leave anyone bleeding on the side of the road, regardless of whether they are an illegal alien or not.

      Behavior doesn’t match the opinion, but behavior reveals truth, so always look to behavior rather than words to get a sense of a person’s true self.

      1. “The person who rants against illegal aliens, . . .”

        Forgive me for going off on a tangent, but we should practice the corporal works of mercy towards the poor. But, illegal immigration is symptomatic of larger problems in the countries of origin. What if these countries broke down the barriers to economic growth and opportunity for their citizens? That would treat the cause of the problem. Treating symptoms won’t help to eradicate the problem for the long term.

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