“The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge.”
– Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
Writing opinions is an exercise in both narcissism and optimism. The practice is fraught with peril because setting one’s opinions to the page is often no more than an exercise in self- righteous pontificating.
When you get right down to it, writing an opinions column is a thinly veiled statement that your opinions somehow matter more than others.
They don’t. In fact, at times the whole thing can seem like a fool’s errand. This is true of 90 per cent of opinions, but of course there is always that 10 per cent that justifies the other 90.
The things that society needs to know, the perspective that needs to be shared, the political skepticism, the alarm bells on health issues, the environmental whistle blowing.
It happens everyday; people transmit an opinion to the masses that raises awareness, and with any luck that leads to a better world.
While most opinions do little more than consume ink and column inches, a few can stir the pot enough to change the system.
On August 20, 1862, The New York Tribune published one of its most famous editorials, “A Prayer for Twenty Millions” written by Horace Greeley, editor and founder of the newspaper.
The editorial took the form of a letter addressed directly to U.S. president Abraham Lincoln. Greeley, a steadfast abolitionist, called on Lincoln to follow laws that allowed freedom for slaves, especially those who left the Confederates to fight for the Union Army.
Lincoln responded to Greeley’s letter personally, stating that his responsibility laid not in helping slaves, but rather, in preserving the Union.
However, Lincoln closed his letter saying, “I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”
One month later the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
While it is unlikely that Greeley’s letter changed Lincoln’s plans, it did represent and articulate the opinion of many in the North that Lincoln was shirking his duty to uphold freedom for all.
It also made it less likely that Lincoln would ignore popular Northern sentiment about slavery and thus more likely that the Emancipation Proclamation would come to pass.
This anecdote from the annals of history is proof positive of the power of words and an example of why writing and publishing opinions is important.
Opinions when well articulated, as in the aforementioned letter to Lincoln, have the power to act as a reflection, a critique and a catalyst.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton put it best:
“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”
In other words our souls die when we stop sharing what we think.
Opinions are mostly just jabberwocky, what makes them glorious is that they can effect change and most important of all, opinions can be changed.