Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Respecting others' opinion

This is something that I had written a while back - seemed like bloggable! So here you go ...

Do you Respect Others' Opinion?

For some time I have been thinking what does it really mean to respect other’s opinions. The reason I was sort of forced to think about this was because in some subject I differ from many people and I really find it difficult to ‘respect the other person’s opinion’ (whatever it means!) – Because it sounds so stupid to me! However, as we all ‘know’ or let’s say we all hear that one should always respect other’s opinion; I started thinking if I don’t have this quality in me. I know, or at least I think I know, many of my friends have this quality, at least in this matter! Is that because they anyway don’t have a strong opinion on the matter anyway?

There few things that I’m trying to answer here. What does it mean to ‘respect other’s opinion’? Is that a virtue or a good quality to have? Why or why not?

Before we even begin, we should get the definitions straight. The answer will greatly vary depending on what one means by the word ‘respect’. Respect (according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language) is defined as:
A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem.
Willingness to show consideration or appreciation
Similarly, the word ‘opinion’ is defined as: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.

The definition of opinion I think is quite clear, not many people are very likely to have widely different view of that word. However, respect has few aspects – feeling of appreciation is not the same as willingness to show consideration. The first one is much stronger and in that sense of the term I believe it is much harder to really ‘respect’ other’s opinion especially when you don’t at all agree with that opinion. But the second one is milder, and I can definitely agree that it’s easier for people to ‘have willingness to show consideration’ for other’s opinion even when you don’t believe in them.

I brought up this question among many of my friends. What I found pretty much from every one of them is that what they mean by respecting other’s opinion is basically ‘respecting other’s right to hold and/or express their opinion’. If you take the second meaning of the word ‘respect’, i.e. ‘willingness to show consideration or appreciation’, then the meaning of the phrase ‘respecting other’s opinion’ almost becomes similar to ‘respecting other’s right to hold and/or express their opinion’. It’s important to understand the difference: in one case you ‘respect’ the opinion itself and in another can you ‘respect’ the other person’s ‘right to hold and or express’ that opinion – where respect means ‘appreciative feeling’. Let’s take these two cases one by one.

If we are talking about respecting the ‘opinion’ itself (and by respect I mean to have a appreciative feeling), then I definitely can not always respect other’s opinion. On the contrary, I can and I do have contempt (opposite of ‘respect’!) for many opinions. For example, if you take the example of any supremacist of racist opinion held by many individuals and groups, I can have nothing but contempt for those opinions. And I strongly believe this is the case for most of the people (if not all) – where they have contempt or strong disagreement for some opinions. So, in this sense of the phrase, I don’t think people can really always respect other’s opinion neither will I call it a ‘virtue’, rather quite the opposite.

Now, if we take the other case, where we ‘respect other’s right to hold and/or express’ their opinion – I personally would agree with that. For example, say even though I have contempt for the Nazi supremacist opinion, I can ‘respect’ their right to hold that opinion or express that opinion. In this sense of the phrase, I think many people do ‘respect other’s opinion’.

Now the question is whether this is a good quality to have. In the first sense that we discussed before (‘respecting the opinion itself’), as I have already expressed, I don’t think this as a virtue, rather quite the contrary. But in the second sense, I think respecting other’s right to hold any opinion and to express them, is a good quality to have. Why? There can be several reasons for that. First of all, this is a diverse world and everyone has their own beliefs and way of thinking. Without any respect for holding different opinions at all everything will fall apart, there will probably be fights and hatred everywhere. There will be less tolerance for the diversity in opinion and that can probably lead to a variety of problems. Whoever has the power, will force their opinion on everyone else.

Finally, to conclude, depending on what one means by respecting other’s opinion, it might be a virtue or it might even be an evil! I don’t know how many people really know exactly what they mean when they say that they respect other’s opinion or that it’s a good quality to have.