“Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.”
~ Dirty Harry.
The first time I heard those words spoken wasn’t during a screening of a Clint Eastwood flick. No blue-eyed, hard-nosed, convention defying Harry Callahan strutting with his Smith & Wesson revolver lit up my screen and branded my ears with that sentence for the first time. Far from it. I was twenty and it had been during a showing of the Nazi symbol firmly tattooed on the brawny arm of a bikie greenhorn.
Maybe I’d had one too many bourbons that night, or maybe I’d grown comfortable enough around these new friends to finally express myself a little. But then again, perhaps it was just when I was confronted by a symbol that to me represented fascism, dictatorship and the murder of around six million people that I had trouble taming the instant revulsion swirling in my belly. And there it was, flung out in the open before I could catch it – my opinion.
The words started to roll over my tongue, and at each unsatisfactory answer, I probed even more. Suddenly, I wanted to know why the bikie beefcake wore that symbol on his arm as if it were a prized medal, and more importantly, I wanted to know how he could choose to believe in such an atrocity.
And he wanted me to “shut the f**k up”.
I have an asshole, you see.
Those were the days when I was introduced to a new world of long whiskers, leather jackets and hot motorbikes. I know what you’re thinking, but before romanticised visions of Sons of Anarchy flood your mind, I’ll stop you right there. There were no super-hot males swaggering around in tight jeans and fitted shirts. And certainly, no Jax Teller straddling a shiny Harley-Davidson and beckoning me to cosy up behind him before whisking me off into the sunset.
Uh-uh. Not even close.
But that’s not why that scene fast became a fleeting memory for me. I stuck it out for a few months because my boyfriend had decided they were his new tribe. To be fair, some of them were his childhood friends. But in the end, I discovered it was a world in which I didn’t belong.
It wasn’t that they were bad people. Although none of them remotely resembled Jax from the above-mentioned notorious biker series, for the most part, they were fun to hang out with and quite accommodating. There were no qualms when it came to sharing, and I have to admit, they knew how to party. And party hard they did. I’d even made a friend among them. She was one of the girlfriends. She was blonde and nice, in a rough-around-the-edges kind of way, and she took a liking to me.
After a while, though, she was banished from her biker-girlfriend position, and cast aside for the next in line. She piled her belongings into her car and to my surprise, stopped by my house on the way out of town to give me my first dreamcatcher because she said I was the nicest person she’d met in Sydney. Another surprise. I mean, I knew she liked me but to be the nicest person she’d met in Sydney? I was honoured.
Then I remembered her choice of company.
Wait – was that another opinion flung out across my keyboard?
Well, I do have an asshole remember, and I’m betting the last time you checked, you do too. In all seriousness, I didn’t think more or less of that particular group of people. They were no different to me, and free to express their opinions and beliefs as much as the next person, even if the Nazi symbol had offended me at the time.
Actually, the part that had upset me the most during that interaction was when the bikie greenhorn responded with the phrase so famously spoken by Clint Eastwood in the movie The Dead Pool. I remember blushing and feeling embarrassed. I had no idea how to react, and suddenly felt self-conscious. I guess he had accomplished his intention, because yeah, I shut up pretty fast following that remark. And something else occurred to me – not everyone wanted to hear my opinion, and nor was it necessary for me to share it.
Opinions. Unless you’re a Buddhist monk, most of us can’t get through life without forming them, believing in them and living according to them. Hell, even Buddhist monks live according to their beliefs, right?
They are the threads of thoughts drawn from our experiences, our cultural, societal and academic backgrounds, and family heritage, and are strung together to eventually inform our belief systems.
We have all kinds of belief systems, too – religious and spiritual beliefs, political beliefs, philosophical and ideological, and the list goes on to eventually settle in the core of your being after you have sifted through it all and decided to adhere to a set of beliefs that feel right to you.
But what are beliefs and opinions really?
Practised thoughts. Practise a thought enough and it will become your reality. I could say I believed the sight of that Nazi tattoo offended me – until it didn’t. Until I realised that by allowing the outer conditions of my world to influence my reactions and feelings, that I was really giving power to circumstances and conditions outside of myself.
I’m not saying I had a complete about-face and now advocate the heinous actions of the Nazis and what would result as the holocaust. Quite the contrary. But I am saying that you can never escape the opinions and beliefs of others, and you’re not always going to agree or like what you see or hear. You can, however, choose how you react to those situations, and you can choose not to allow the opinions of others influence your self-esteem and self-worth.
Do I always get this right?
I still get hurt and feel emotional pain, and sometimes have fleeting moments of loss of control. Only now, it is the people that I love that can stir my most inner emotions. I don’t give that power away too easily these days, and even then, it has its limitations because I remind myself that I cannot pin my happiness, the outcome of my life, or my self-worth on anyone other than myself.
People will always have opinions, feel the need to share them and judge. You can’t stop it – even in yourself at times. But when I hear someone judging another person or impressing their opinions about them, or even when I feel the urge to pass judgement on another myself, I recall the words of Matt Kahn when he said, “May the person judging be the next in line for love.”
At the end of the day, that’s all we can do – qualify judgement with love and move on.
Move on with love.