I always struggle with getting students to understand that not all opinions are equally valid. When they begin to moan that “But it’s just my opinion!”, I always play the following game to make them see why some “opinions” are less worthy of respect than others.
“What did you have for breakfast today, Bethany?” I ask one of them.
“Cereal!” Bethany reports cheerfully.
“No,” I say. “You had an enormous steak with fries.”
“That’s not true,” Bethany laughs. “You weren’t there, so you don’t know.”
“But it’s my opinion,” I insist. “I’m entitled to my opinion.”
Everybody giggles and I add, “So do you see now why your opinion that Miguel de Unamuno denounced Franco’s dictatorship in his novel published in 1931 is less valuable than my knowledge that he couldn’t have done that?”
That usually gets the point across and makes it stick. At least, for a while.
The same goes for the events in Ukraine and Russia.
The only people I believe are entitled to express opinions about Ukraine and Russia in my presence are those who possess all of the following characteristics:
- They are native speakers of Russian.
- They watch news from Russia every day.
- They watch news from Ukraine every day.
- They read Russian and Ukrainian blogs and newspapers every day.
- They lived in Russia or Ukraine for at least several years.
When anybody other than such people tries to express “opinions” on this subject in my presence, I feel a deep vicarious shame. It’s OK to ask questions, try to get informed, express solidarity, and offer condolences. But it’s not OK to opine in the presence of somebody who is enormously better informed of the facts.
I can opine about, say, events in Pakistan when I’m in the company of people who are as little informed as I am. But it would never occur to me to offer these opinions to the Pakistanis who are daily in touch with what is happening in their country. Neither would I be interested in hearing the opinions on the use of the subjunctive mood in Spanish with somebody who doesn’t speak a word of the language and is unfamiliar with its grammar.
I read Russian and Ukrainian blogs every day and many times a day. And you know what I never do there? I don’t leave any comments offering my opinions. I might express gratitude for the information and ask questions, but that’s as far as I go because I understand how bizarre it would be of me to do anything besides this.
Simply put, I believe you are as entitled to disagree with me on Russia and Ukraine as you are on what I had for breakfast this morning. Of course, if anybody has reasons to think differently, I’d like to hear them.