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Two ways of holding an opinion: Extreme but easily swayed, moderate but deeply entrenched

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
Two ways of holding an opinion: Extreme but easily swayed, moderate but deeply entrenched
Photo by Payam Tahery / Unsplash

I've been thinking about another "there's two kinds of people" situation that causes conflicts. It's how about you handle having partial knowledge of a situation. Let's say you hear from a semi-credible source that a new policy will result in terrible consequences (I'm being vague because I don't want to distract with the content of the example).

Do you think:
A: That's terrible! But I'm not sure if it's true? I'll assume it's terrible for right now and change my view when I hear anything contradictory.
B: That's terrible! But I'm not sure if it's true? I don't want to judge too harshly when I don't have all the facts, so I'll take a more moderate position and assume the policy has problems, but it's not terrible.

(It's not the best example sorry).

The point is, some people have very strong opinions, but hold them very lightly, whereas some people moderate their opinions to account for uncertainty. Because Person B would never call something terrible and the worst unless they really, really had the facts, they tend to read way too much into the lightly held opinions of Person A. It looks really unfair to them, and like they're leaping to conclusions. But they haven't really concluded (Concluded - finished). It's just where they're standing for the moment.

But to Person A, Person B seems kind of cowardly, taking a false medium to avoid conflict. Or they think they don't care that much about how damaging this policy could be, they think it's not that bad. Maybe Person B thinks Person A is a coward, too, because they drop their supposedly strong opinion with the slightest bit of contradictory input.

I'm very much Person A, strong opinions held lightly, and it has the advantage that if I say "this policy is the worst!" it's strongly enough stated that if it's wrong, people will argue with you and you'll find out that you're wrong.

But it gets me into trouble because lots of people correlate the extremeness of a position with how much you believe in it and how hard you would be to budge. I think holding a moderate view makes no sense. A moderated view is always 50% wrong, which means it never risks being too far wrong, but it's never going to be correct, either. An extreme view is either definitely right or definitely wrong.

(much more broadly, 'neutral' means 'the status quo' which is never neutral, and 'somewhere in the middle' gets undue credit for being 'reasonable', when halfway between 'fine' and 'terrible' is not really a very reasonable idea at all).

I know this is coming across as biased but my point isn't really that people should be more like me - it's that both types of people should understand the other exists, so they quickly pick up on what's going on before the conflict escalates too much, and not get fake ideas (like that the moderater doesn't care, or that the extreme person is much more extreme than they actually are).

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #21 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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