A more responsible public opinion
HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - February 17, 2019 - 12:00am

We, of course, are all free to express an opinion on any public issue. In fact, this should be encouraged, since this will help ferret out what is truly helpful to the public.

We just have to do it as responsibly as possible, which means we should study the issue very well first, avoiding off-the-cuff comments that can cause unnecessary distress and acrimony among people, and express our views as clearly as possible and with charity always.

Let’s always remember that our freedom of speech and expression can never do away with the requirements of charity. Even in the bitterest of our conflicts, we should always be charitable, ready to understand others, to ask for pardon if we commit some mistake, and to forgive when others commit them, etc.

We cannot deny that in matters of opinion we will always have differences and conflicts. We just have to learn how to be civil in arguing our points and sorting out differences. We have to learn this art, now so relevant and urgent given the growing complexity of our times.

We should avoid falling into extreme biases and prejudices that would compromise a healthy dialogue. Opinions can lend themselves to different views and positions, all of them valid and legitimate, with their share of strong and weak points.

They should not be argued as if they are dogmas, because even in dogmas, when some people cannot accept them, these people will always be treated with charity. We should avoid absolutizing something that only has a relative value.

No one should claim he has the last word in any issue. In matters of opinion, no one can claim that he has all the good, true, and beautiful in his views. One should always be open-minded to the views of others, no matter how different and conflicting they are to his. There is always some truth to what they say. We can always learn something from them.

And in the discussion, one should avoid trying to simply score points and dominate the exchange of views. Rather, one should be interested in arriving at what is the most advantageous, fair, and practical option for everyone. Some kind of consensus has to be achieved.

A great deal of magnanimity and broad-mindedness are required here. We should take the initiative to understand others with different and even conflicting views, trying to figure out where they are coming from. We have to learn to agree to disagree in an amicable way on certain issues. It pays to have a lot of patience, a sportsman’s attitude, a good sense of humor.

We have to keep a tight and strong grip on our emotions and temper, not saying anything or delay saying it when our sentiments are approaching boiling and erupting point.

Sad to say, what we are noticing these days in the media is precisely different from how public opinion should be ideally expressed and dealt with. There is so much bias, prejudice, bashing and rash judgments, so much absolutizing of things with relative value, so much self-righteous comments. There are times when we get the sensation we are talking to a wall.

And so we are reaping our just desserts. There’s a lot of acrimony and division. Anger, hatred, resentment, and bitterness are rising. And everyone suffers. The common good is hardly addressed. What seem obvious are the moves to bolster one’s power, wealth, and fame. Brazen pursuits of self-interest are all over the place.

We can do a lot better than this! We have to start learning the art of public opinion as it should be.

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