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Accept that on many subjects you are not entitled to have an opinion

Having an opinion requires deep knowledge. Similarly, don't waste time arguing with others about topics where they are ignorant.

Posted 17 May 2021

Yesterday I gave my 62nd "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.

I used it to share a small, but important, point that many people miss. That is the importance of:

  1. Being honest about the limitations of your own knowledge.
  2. Recognising when other people are not competent to discuss something, and refusing to waste your time debating that subject with them.

I did not learn this myself until my early 30's.

Knowing it has prevented me wasting my time on many occasions. It is also better for my blood pressure, since arguing with someone about a topic where that person is ignorant merely leaves you feeling angry and frustrated.

Thought for the week

Hear my "Thought"

Due to the pandemic, I always pre-record the "Thought for the Week" and send it to the BBC in advance. Accordingly you can hear my recording below.

Read my "Thought"

America’s Declaration of Independence holds it to be self-evident that all men are created equal. Islam teaches that all men and women are equally responsible before God.

But what do we mean by equal?

Fundamentally, we mean that all people have equal moral value. Each person’s life is equally precious. Your future matters as much as mine.

That is why we have one person one vote in our country.

It is easy to go from there to assuming something else. Namely that everyone is entitled to have an opinion about everything. That is false.

For example, I have a close friend. 40 years ago, we often argued about what economic policy Britain should follow. Then I realised I was being stupid.

I had studied lots of economics, and read many economics textbooks. My friend had never opened an economics textbook in his life!

Since then, whenever my friend says anything controversial about economics, I refuse to discuss it with him. Instead, I just remind him that he knows nothing about the subject.

I am realistic enough to apply this approach to myself.

For example, I regularly follow scientific developments and am particularly interested in developments in quantum mechanics and cosmology.

However, you will never hear me express an opinion about either subject. The simple reason is that I am aware that I just don’t know enough to merit having an opinion.


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