Home > Playing in Life's Ballpark > #19 – On the Nature of Opinions: “So, what do you think?”

#19 – On the Nature of Opinions: “So, what do you think?”

President John F. Kennedy once remarked, “Too often we . . . enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” I have often wondered if he might have been sitting in the stands during a baseball game when he made this comment. Baseball fans certainly don’t lack for opinions, and they seldom hesitate to express them. I remember as a boy sitting in the grandstand at Fenway Park and hearing nearby fans loudly berate one of the players they had seen make an error or the umpire for what they thought was a bad call. This seemed to happen with every game, and it didn’t matter what the score was or who was on the field. I remember too how my Dad would always point out that “purchasing a ticket gives you the right to express your opinion.” Yet, as I listened to these fans exercising their rights, I was also struck by the fact that no one on the field seemed to care. Instead, both players and umpires just went about their business, without regard for the noise being made in the stands. Indeed, they all remained focused on the game and were not even interested in what anyone else had to say about it. And the game never even slowed down. Over the years, I have always been convinced that there was an important lesson here.

It is of course axiomatic that people will have opinions. As we start to experience the world as children, we begin to assess and evaluate our experiences and those we hear about from others. Eventually, our assessments combined with those of others — usually our parents — form the bases for beliefs we come to hold about the world and ourselves. And these influences on our beliefs continue throughout our lives as we deal with daily events and what our institutions tell us about them. Every day, we are beset by opinion polls and editorial comments designed to influence our views of things. The consistent underlying message is that if most people believe something, it must be true, and that if we don’t go along with that opinion, there must be something wrong with us. This is why so many of us are focused on wearing the right shoes, driving the right car, and voting for the right candidate.

It is also not surprising that so many of us forget we are actually relying on opinion and not fact. We stop observing and questioning and thinking, and simply assume that we know the “truth.” Of course, when other people offer us their opinions, they expect us to agree with their truths. Most of us have had the experience of having someone give us an opinion with which we disagreed and then seeing our disagreement prompt resistance, perhaps disbelief or even hostility. After all, when someone disagrees with us, things start to become personal; if our truth is being challenged, we are being challenged. How we choose to deal with those challenges and respond to the differences that emerge in our circumstances and relationships says a lot about who we are. It is also a frequent reason while people come to my office seeking therapy.

For many of these people, it isn’t just that they have been taught to believe things about the world that are false or distorted; sadly, it is often much more. Many have also been taught, either deliberately or by happenstance, to believe terribly negative things about themselves — that they are somehow flawed or unworthy, lacking in intelligence or social appeal, or perhaps simply deserving of nothing better than to be treated as objects. Many are even taught that they have no right to form their own opinions or to be the final judges of their own intentions or actions. And so, they remain shackled by these self-condemning beliefs, always fearful that others might have negative opinions of them. Feeling unworthy and inept, they remain ever vigilant and ready to apologize for any action or utterance that might bring on someone’s disapproval. As a result, they never think of exploring their own potential and living their own lives in ways that might be satisfying to them. They never consider that opinions are simply statements of personal view and are not necessarily based on facts. For these people, the goal of therapy is to help them develop a more complete and accurate picture of themselves and to understand that they need no one’s blessing or approval simply to be who they are. The work is often long and difficult, but for those who persevere, the rewards are increased self-acceptance and the courage to express their own individuality.

Expressing individuality was not a problem for Mark Fidrych, who began pitching for the Detroit Tigers as a gangly 22-year-old in 1976. Nicknamed “The Bird” after a character on Sesame Street, Fidrych quickly became the object of a variety of opinions from fans, players, and even umpires because of his unusual mannerisms on the field. He often crouched down before pitching in each inning to “manicure the mound.” During the game, he frequently strode around between pitches and talked out loud to himself and to the ball. Sometimes he would even throw balls back to the umpire, insisting that they be taken out of the game “because they had hits in them.” At first, Detroit fans were not sure what to make of this unusual character. He clearly did not live up to their opinions of who a big league pitcher was supposed to be and how he was supposed to act. But fans outside of Detroit didn’t hesitate to pass judgment on Fidrych’s behavior. They booed and hollered derisive comments in an ever increasing chorus of negative opinion. Yet the young pitcher remained oblivious to the noise. He kept his head in the game, followed his own routine, and before long the chorus began to subside. By season’s end, Fidrych had pitched 24 complete games, winning 19. His 2.34 ERA led the league and earned him second place in the voting for the Cy Young Award — the top award for pitchers. And despite all the critical opinions, Fidrych was named the American League Rookie of the Year. Although his career was unfortunately cut short by injuries, Mark Fidrych remains a clear example of what is possible when someone is willing to be true to her/his individuality even if doing so is contrary to “popular opinion.”

I think the lesson I was being offered all those years ago in the cheap seats is that no matter what the popular opinions may be, it is still up to us to keep our heads in the game. By continuing to do our own thinking, making our own judgments, we can keep opinions from becoming substitutes for facts. We can keep our own sense of individuality while respecting those of others. Then we can perform at our best and in our own way. We can even become our own Rookie of the Year.

If you have read this far, you have likely formed some opinions of your own regarding beliefs, differences, and the significance of independent thoughts. It is important to remember that your conclusions can be entirely your own; you are under no obligation to accept or agree with anyone else’s opinions . . . including mine!

  1. June 3, 2013 at 4:56 am

    excellent post! I posted something similar recently. It would be nice if people would base their opinions on the facts as they know them instead of whatever is popular. I am from Detroit and I remember “the Bird” well! Thanks for the memory 😉

  2. June 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

    I thank you for these things…

    They are always applicable to my life. I am learning how to help in a non A-B game way. And it is quite fulfilling. Nothing is ever perfect, I miss Many things and People. But I am actively solving fun problems with creative coworkers, and I look forward instead of backward.

    Neck still hurts… But when & if nothing else, that strategy of following energy down my arm always helps 😉

    I am Glad for the Love I had for Prent, I always will. And I am glad to have learned so many things to force self out of that internal defeating lie that I’m worthless. It’s not cliche. I feel that that thought was the greatest injustice I ever imposed onto myself.

    I was dead for 10 years. Just now waking up. And the Art is Active.

  3. Shelby Arters
    June 3, 2013 at 8:24 am

    I absolutely LOVED this one……miss you.

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