Strong Opinions

The difference between holding strong opinions and imposing them.

I find strong opinions – especially ones I don’t agree with – to be far more interesting and edifying than pages upon pages of qualifiers, equivocation and balancing.

Although it seems hard to reconcile strong opinions with freedom.

When you think of strong opinions, usually tyrants and despots tolerating no dissent come to mind. Or obnoxious preachers shoving their beliefs on others simply trying to get on with their lives.

A strong opinion seems like an imposition, a diktat someone’s pushing onto others, getting them to conform to his views.

Which is contrary to living and letting others live – an outlook that seems almost to require no very strong views. Reducing everything to different perspectives that co-exist as equals – a hodgepodge of relativism.

Holding Opinions

There’s a difference between strong opinions and holding opinions strongly.

A strong opinion is a certain (as opposed to uncertain) view about something. It’s commitment, picking a side that, despite its shortcomings, you think is the optimal path.

An opinion held strongly, on the other hand, is an article of faith. To hold strongly is to reject any possibility of being mistaken, to shun all evidence that doesn’t conform.

Caring and Thinking

To have a strong opinion on something, you have to care about it – at least enough to think about it, even if only a little.

To think about something is to care about it. Thought is exertion, effort, and one wouldn’t exert if one didn’t care.

If you’ve never given the matter a thought you wouldn’t have a strong opinion on it. Someone who’s never given a thought to a subject wouldn’t have a strong opinion; he’d just go with whatever is the consensus, that is, if he had any opinion at all.

If you were suddenly asked for your views on say, space junk, or the threat of extinction of a species of bee due to human activity, you might not express an opinion, beyond the usual generic stuff.

Holding an opinion strongly, on the other hand, unlike having a strong opinion, doesn’t require thinking about it. In fact, it might even require not thinking much about it – if you begin to think, you see counterviews and shortcomings, and that might just weaken the faith.

Perhaps one reason many closed communities hold on to their traditions strongly and clamp down on any deviance from them – they’ve never thought about them.

For them, it’s not ‘a’ way of life, it’s the way of life; it’s life itself. Any other way is something that can’t be fathomed, can’t be thought about, simply doesn’t enter the mind.

Thinking is necessary for a strong opinion, but it isn’t sufficient; far too often, thinking is the route to a weak opinion.

Think too little, and you end up in the camp of believers, seeking a faith to follow.

Think without courage, and you end up paralyzed, seeking safety and correctness at the cost of strength and novelty – spouting banal, weak truths beaten to death a million times already.

See the pros, see the cons – and end up with a ‘balanced’ answer, a ‘middle path’, neither this nor that, but something in between.

It sounds refined and polished but it’s neither new nor interesting. Any view will have its cons. To attempt to hedge every risk, to patch up every flaw, is an academic exercise devoid of any semblance to reality.

Weak and Strong Holds

A 2×2 matrix exists between the strength of the opinion and the strength of the belief in the opinion.

Strong Opinions Held Strongly

Strong opinions frequently tend to be held strongly – conspiracy theories are one example of that.

I would guess the commitment to a side tends to create a sense of attachment. Identify with the opinion, and believe that its refutation implies your refutation. The truth of the opinion is now a truth about you.

The stronger the opinion, often the stronger its held, because you have to backtrack more if you change your mind.

Weak Opinions Held Strongly

Those who’ve made a career, or at least a hobby, out of weak opinions hold on to them the strongest, because that’s all they know how to do.

To smudge every issue into different shades of grey, and claim proudly that it’s a complex issue, requires nuanced assessment.

Taking a specific position is frightening because it means opening yourself to the weaknesses and flaws inherent in that, or indeed in any, position. It’s akin to the difference between stepping in the ring and watching from the audience. Far easier & safer to prevaricate and dilute, to watch rather than participate.

There’s no way anything you’ve said can be refuted, for the simple reason that you’ve not said anything, even if you have emitted an astounding amount of words.

Weak Opinions Held Weakly

The other reason for weak opinions is that you don’t care.

Someone who doesn’t care has probably never given much thought to a matter and therefore wouldn’t have much of a reason to have a strong opinion about it.

Assuming they could care enough to take an interest, they might just begin to have an opinion.

Not that there’s any reason to – it’s’ not necessary to have an opinion on everything, no matter how important it might seem to others. There’s nothing wrong with not having an opinion about things.

If anything, there are way too many things to care about and have an opinion on – you spread yourself thinly if you hand out f**** so freely.

Strong Opinions Held Weakly

‘Strong opinions held weakly’ means that you do take a position, and yet remain willing, even eager, to accept you might be mistaken, and change it.

Committing to something – without identifying with it or tying oneself to it.


Strong opinions are easily conflated with strongly held opinions.

If you express a definite opinion about something, there’s a good chance you’ll come across as a strongly convinced person – as someone who holds opinions strongly.

And in some ways, it’s understandable, because strong opinions are so often held strongly.

More pertinently, the most visible strong opinions are the strongly held ones.

The reason for that is perhaps that the strength of an opinion, and the stronger the opinion is held – both make the opinion more social.

By social I mean imposition – how much likelier it is that the opinion holder wants other people to conform to his opinion. Put simply, wants to impose it on others.

I think the strength which you hold matters more than the strength of the opinion. So if imposition was proportional to the strength of the opinion, it’d be proportional to the square of the strength it’s held by.

Either term tending to zero implies no imposition – that’s why the only case you have to consider is strong opinions held strongly.

Atheism attracts more than agnosticism, veganism is more attractive than reducing meat. Mild half-measures don’t draw support. For one side, you go too far, and for the other, you don’t go far enough.

A weak opinion is like lukewarm water – no one really likes it or dislikes it. Whereas people tend to have an opinion about hot or cold water.

That’s for the strength of the opinion.

And to have the audacity to go out and impose your beliefs on others, you really have to hold them strongly – really be convinced of them.

Convinced not just that you’re right, and right not just for yourself, but for everyone, but also care a lot about the matter – enough to expend significant time and effort to proselytize.

I can imagine most people following their beliefs, or perhaps pushing them on their kids, but it takes something – call it altruism or conviction or delusion or presumptuousness or arrogance – to shove them down total strangers’ throats.

These are the opinions that draw attention, and it’s no wonder that strong opinions get the bad rap they do, because – unless prevarication is your profession – a weak opinion is very hard to hold strongly, simply because it’s so vacuous.

Which means that nearly all the strongly held opinions – the opinions incidentally, that’ve caused the majority of grief in the world – tend to be strong ones. And that’s why, though not all strong opinions tend to be strongly held ones, they’re often considered to be so.

Individual Choice

I’ve noticed it myself on expressing a view – it’s often taken as a judgment that X is good or Y is bad.

A simple statement such as ‘I don’t care for watching TV shows’ becomes ‘TV shows are bad / a waste of time.’

Partly it’s because of the chain – the strong opinion is often held strongly, and the strongly held opinion is often strongly proselytized.

From ‘I don’t care for TV shows’ to ‘TV shows are a total waste of time’ to ‘No one should watch TV shows’.

These are three different things, and yet, that chain is so often implicitly assumed – particularly the leap from ‘I don’t care for X’ to ‘X is bad’.

Perhaps the other reason is the hunger and craving for ‘guidance’ and prescription that exists so ubiquitously and creates the ‘gurus’ and ‘influencers’ of the world.

The craving that drives minds unable or unwilling to determine their values themselves to set up clay-footed heroes to imitate blindly also creates prescriptions where none exist.

But strong opinions held weakly needn’t be impositions – the weakness by which they’re held prevents that.

A strong opinion isn’t always an attempt to proselytize, to preach and prescribe to others what they ought to do.

A strong opinion isn’t necessarily a judgment – at least not a social one. Which is to say it needn’t be a claim that something is ‘bad’ or ‘good’ for everyone, nor a prescription to comrades to fall in line.

It can simply be an individual choice.

Put that way, the meaning of ‘I don’t care for TV shows’ is ‘TV shows don’t have much value for me‘.

Judgment – and goodness and badness in that sense, are simply what one chooses and what one rejects. Chooses in actions, not in empty words.

A strong opinion can be an individual judgment, rather than always being a social one.

A choice a person makes by himself for himself; not one prescribed to others to follow.

And that’s why strong opinions aren’t irreconcilable with freedom and choice. If anything, they’re a prerequisite – because weak opinions are the first to buckle under the slightest pressure.