Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Talking Heads:

Addicted To Opinion

Muir Beach, California, USA

October 6, 2011



"We don't see things as they are: we see them as we  are." ... Anais Nin

"I'm suspicious of all opinions - yours, mine, especially  mine." ... Laurence Platt
This essay, Talking Heads: Addicted To Opinion, is the companion piece to
  1. Watching The News
  2. Media Coverage


In so many ways, the school I attended in South Africa was unique. Modeled after traditional English public schools like Eton and Harrow, the South African College School (or "SACS"  as it's known for obvious reasons) was an all boys school. We all wore the same school uniform. And all of us in those halcyon days of apartheid  were white.

When I say "In many ways, the school  (singular) I attended ... was unique", yes there was only one school I attended. Remarkably I attended SACS continuously for sixteen years. And no, that's not because I repeated any of my years there. The SACS curriculum comprised two kindergarden years known as "sub A" and "sub B" (in the United States, first and second grade), followed by five junior school  years known as "standard one" through "standard five" (in the United States, third through seventh grade), followed by five high school  years known as "standard six" through "standard ten" (in the United States, eighth through twelfth grade), the final year of which was known as the "matriculation  year" or simply "matric"  (in the United States, the high school senior year), followed by four years of university (unusually, the South African College also comprised the University of Cape Town).

SACS high school provided an extraordinary cultural introduction to Life. The music society run by English and History teacher and cricket and rugby coach André "Ali" Abrahams, met in the evenings not simply to intellectually discuss classical music, but to really listen  to classical music. It was direct, hands on appreciation - perhaps that should be "ears on"  appreciation. The drama society run by English teacher and rugby coach Douglas "Doug" Brown produced complex Gilbert and Sullivan operettas annually, like "The Pirates of Penzance" and "HMS Pinafore". The debating society run by headmaster and Latin teacher Robin "The Boss" Whiteford, also met in the evenings.

In the debating society, your opinion really counted. In the world of debating, opinion is the coin of the realm. But opinion wasn't just the coin of the realm in the SACS debating society. It was the coin of the realm throughout the entire culture of SACS high school. "The Boss" made sure throughout the entire culture of SACS high school, a major part of our education comprised developing strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions as a means to getting along in Life.

It took me the better part of the next ten years to undo what I learned at SACS about getting along in Life with strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions.

Let me explain what I mean by this:

When I learned at SACS how to get along in Life with strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions, there were two other related things I didn't  learn. These two other things weren't withheld  from us. It's not that "The Boss" and the other SACS teachers like Ali and Doug knew these two things, and intentionally held them back. It's that they probably weren't aware  of them, so they may never have known how valuable  it would have been for them to be taught.

The first thing I didn't learn about my opinions at SACS is they're just my opinions  - that, plus just because they're my opinions doesn't make them real. The emphasis on developing strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions, didn't include or cover or teach me the most obvious thing there is for me to know about my opinions: I made them up;  then I forgot it was I who made them up; and then I touted them as if they were real. Ouch!

In the world of the SACS debating society, the more debates my expressed opinions won, the better man I was. A lot of goodies  are gotten by being better  than the next guy through having stronger, clearer defined, better expressed opinions than him. Being better than the next guy this way, was the skill I learned by debating. Having stronger, clearer defined, better expressed opinions than the next guy, became connected with being better than him.

It's very, very  hard to unlearn this mis-connection. But when I did start unlearning it, I soon realized there was no point in unlearning having  opinions. I realized once I no longer have opinions, I'll no longer be human. Humans have opinions. For the most part, we humans are a very opinionated species. Trying to give up having my opinions goes about as well for me as trying to give up having my nose or trying to give up having my legs. In this regard, I've discovered something really useful I can  give up: holding my opinions as real. I've given up holding my opinions as real, and instead I've developed the space for my opinions to be just my opinions  - like my nose and my legs, and everyone's got them, and no big deal, and so what?!

The second thing I didn't learn about my opinions at SACS is this: the emphasis on developing strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions hides the fact that my opinions don't define who I am. Getting along in Life with strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions but without a clear sense of who I really am is at best building the castle on shaky foundations. No amount of strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions can ever compensate for a lack of sense of who we really are. What's interesting is once my experience of who I really am fully matured, my need to dominate and to win (which is to say my need to be right)  with strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions, dramatically diminished.

When I know who I am, I no longer need to debate  you and be right  and be better  than you by touting stronger, clearer defined, and better expressed opinions than yours. Rather, when I know who I am, I am "I am"  (as Werner Erhard may have said). At this point, the value to me of my opinions in winning points by being right in order for me to presence who I am in the world, is minimal.

And those, for the most part, are the two things I didn't learn about my opinions at SACS. They weren't included in SACS' curriculum.

While SACS may be unique in so many ways, in this way SACS is not unique. The talking heads  on any television channel I turn on at any time of day or night give eloquent testimony to the prize people seek in touting opinions - if that's what you're interested in doing.

Consider this: could it be we're so addicted to having strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions, because having strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions compensate us (and maybe even console  us) for not knowing who we really are? In the absence of the experience of completion and wholeness and fulfillment which comes from knowing who we really are, perhaps all that's available is to dominate and to win (which is to say all that's available is to be right)  through having strong, clearly defined, well expressed opinions.

I can only but wonder about the possibilities for television if, when I turn it on, I'd see the usual gangs of opinionated talking heads, instead sharing who they really are. I can also only but wonder what it would bode in Life for South Africa's matriculants if these ideas were included in SACS' curriculum - starting with sub A.



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