We live in an age of information overload. There are so many people out there telling us what we should do and what is good for us. The problem is that not all of these views agree. There are always two sides to the story at least. If we listen to and follow the “wrong side” of the story when it comes to making an important choice, we will have misfortune.
So which is the right side? What is the best choice? How do we separate the good and useful views from the ones that are not so good and useful?
Architect of Fate
Before I discuss how to consider the merits of different viewpoints, let us look at the reason behind this article. I have been waiting a few months for the science fiction book Architect of Fate to come out. As soon as it did, I bought it at once. Being a collection of short stories, there were some stories I preferred to others. But overall, I enjoyed the book. Still, I was curious to see how others found it. Thus, I decided to read a few reviews on it.
One review left an impression on me. I disagreed with how the reviewer reviewed one of the stories which I liked. But on closer inspection, I realized that it was because I had a soft spot for the characters, but he did not.
When it came to the review of another story, the reviewer had great praise for it. This time, he connected with the characters. Unfortunately, I did not. I had just finished reading a similar story about these characters so I was a little weary of them. As a result, I did not enjoy the story that much. Maybe if I were to reread this story in a few months, I might appreciate it more.
This set me thinking. If I had read this review before I bought the book, would I have made the wrong choice and not buy it? Or would I have bought it with certain expectations? How then should I consider the merits of a viewpoint?
How to Consider the Merits of Viewpoints
We cannot possibly know everything. At some point, we have to rely on the views or expertise of others to make a decision. This could be about something as mundane as buying a book. Or it could be a more life-changing choice like moving to another country. The more important the choice, the more carefully we have to weigh the merits of viewpoints. How then do we do so?
1. Is it Balanced and Fair?
The first thing I look for is whether the view is balanced or not. Does the person seek to see the bigger picture and consider different sides of the story? Or do they insist that their point of view is the gospel truth? Does he or she balance the pros and cons? Or do they only look at things from one angle? Have they made an effort to be fair? If not, how does this affect the viewpoint and to what extent does it do so?
I always try to balance good opinions with bad ones. For instance, in reading the Amazon reviews of books, I like to go for the bad reviews first. After I have noted the criticisms in the bad reviews, I look at what the good ones have to say and form my own conclusions. I apply this approach to all areas of life where I have to make an important choice.
2. What are the Underlying Motives?
The next thing I look out for is the underlying motives of the view.
Firstly, who benefits from the viewpoint, the person who gives it or me? Or is it a combination of both? If the person who gives the view derives a benefit, how does this benefit affect the view and to what extent does it do so?
Secondly, is the view objective or subjective? Does the person state things in a calm and detached manner? Or does he or she have an axe to grind? Do they have a reason or agenda behind the point that they are trying to make? How does this agenda skew their viewpoint? What is the agenda?
3. What are the Biases?
Next, I consider the bias in the view.
Does the viewpoint share the same bias as I do? Or is it different from my point of view? If it is similar, should I accept the view wholesale without closer inspection? Or are there some points I should be careful about? If it is different, are there any merits of which I should note? Or should I dismiss it completely?
4. Assumptions and Validity
After that, I look for assumptions.
Are there any assumptions in the viewpoint? If so, what are they and how will this affect me if I follow the advice? Can I expect to achieve the exact same results if I follow the view? Or is there a specific set of criteria I must meet first? Or does this view only apply to a special group of people?
How valid is the view? Are the points in the view irrefutable? Do they have evidence to back them up? Are these examples or evidence reliable? Or are they merely opinions based on impressions, making them debatable?
5. Goals Priorities and Interests
Lastly, a view alone has no meaning if I do not compare it with something of relevance to me. A good point of reference could be my goals, priorities or interests. Does the view help to further my goals or hinder it? Is the information contained within the view useful to me in this context or not? If not, can I utilize it later?
Not every view or opinion requires me to use all the steps. Some views require more steps than others do, while some require less. It all depends on what I am trying to achieve. But no matter what situation I face, as long as I bear the steps above in mind, I will be able to make better choices and so can you.
How do you consider the merits of viewpoints? What do you look for when you listen to views? How do you judge if a view is useful to you or not? Do share your thoughts and comments below!