Opinion crowns with an imperial voice


I suspect that most of us, at one time or another, have been tempted to paste our own views over those with which we disagree. Sometimes we might even feel it is not only our duty to correct the opinions but also the  people spreading their mistaken beliefs and set them straight. Religious zealots might seem to be the most obvious examples, but it’s really quite a common occurrence: hot button topics such as climate change, gender fluidity, and pro-life advocacy, are easily spotted, but how about things like proper voting age, or respect for elders, mandatory retirement age, belief in alternate medicines, mandatory vaccinations…? Truth, in other words. We all have our own opinions which we feel are well-founded, so why doesn’t everybody agree with us? Is everybody else a fool?

Perhaps the unexamined life is truly not worth living, but how does any of us know if we are in possession of the Truth? How could we know if our examinations are on the right track when others, looking at the same evidence, come to different conclusions? And if we were able, somehow, to debunk them, and they were to attempt the same feat with us, is there any common ground where we could meet? In other words, is it possible that none of us were in possession of an unvarnished Truth? Are we all wearing the Emperor’s new clothes?

I wonder if the problem lies in the assumption we may have that any argument we find untenable is very probably false. We have to be careful, however, that as a result we don’t conclude that our own argument is therefore necessarily correct. In fact, should we spot a mistake in the opposing argument, all we really know is that it contains a mistake. It says nothing about our own position. It doesn’t necessarily validate our argument.

So, is there a point to arguing it in the first place? Are we any closer to an answer? To the Truth? It makes me wonder what actually constitutes ‘the Truth’…

I suppose my thoughts about intrenched positions have bedevilled me for years, but my concerns resurfaced recently when I was having coffee with a friend in a downtown Food Court. The tables had been widely-spaced; only a few of them offered more than one chair -a requirement to allow for social distancing and for the nearby coffee counter to open for business in the midst of the pandemic. George and I were too grateful for being able to socialize in public to mount much of a complaint, although I could see that he was not entirely happy about the seating arrangements after what everybody had been going through. He kept making whispered comments about the people who made a point of nervously adjusting their masks as they deliberately maintained an unnecessarily large distance from our table.

“If they’re so scared of mingling, then why go to a food court,” he muttered, as much to himself as to me on the other side of our rather large table.

I smiled in reply -to show him I understood, I guess.

“And look at those two over there,” he added, leaning over the table in the unlikely event he could be overheard from any of the distantly distributed tables. He pointed with his head at two young men sitting and laughing together a couple of tables over from us. “I’ll never understand people like them…” He stared at me and rolled his eyes.

I glanced at the two men, wondering what he meant. “What do you…?”

He shrugged theatrically as he answered my unasked question. “Gays.”

I looked at them again, still mystified. They just seemed to be two average men simply enjoying the opportunity of socializing publicly. “Why do you think they’re gay, George?”

He sighed loudly. “Just look at them, G. Watch their hands waving…”

I snuck a peek again, and shook my head. “I don’t…”

“Come on, G! That’s not normal.” He stared at my face. “Don’t tell me you don’t think they’re flouncing their wrists.”

“George, “ I said, with a little sigh of my own, “They’re just enjoying themselves! And anyway, so what if they’re gay?” He started to frown, so I added, “Or even ‘bi’?”

“You’re one sex or the other,” he said taking a sudden slurp of his coffee.

I shrugged and took a deep breath. “Maybe they’re gender fluid…”

“No such thing,” he said and slammed his cardboard coffee cup rather vigorously on the table. “You’re buying into media propaganda!”

I had to chuckle. “And you’re a curmudgeon, George. We’re not all the same.”

He wrinkled his face into a wry smile. “You’re right, G. We’re not. We either have, or don’t have a Y chromosome… And you can’t pick and choose what you end up with.”

I blinked slowly, trying to think of a reply. “So… what if you don’t feel as if the chromosomes are telling the truth? What if you feel that something else has agency other than your genetic endowment?”

“Then why do we have different sex chromosomes, eh?”

I smiled patiently. “Sexual reproduction…”

“Ahaa,” he said, slapping his hand on the table. A few people turned to stare at him this time, including the two young men, who seemed only mildly curious. “Reproduction’s the purpose,” he continued, more quietly. You gonna deny that…?” He stared at me in triumph for a second before attacking his coffee once again.

I sat back in my chair, still smiling. “Does that mean we are all are required to have children? All of us…?”

George, the forever bachelor, took a moment to process the question. “No… We can choose not to -without forsaking our chromosomes, though.”

I had to chuckle and shake my head. “Look, George, even if they are gay, does that mean they’re forsaking their chromosomes? They might think you have, you know: you’ve never married, and you’ve never taken the chromosomally-chosen path either, have you?”

I could tell he was confused by my argument. His eyes narrowed as he slowly leaned across the table towards me. “Are…” he hesitated briefly before completing his thought, sotto voce. “Are you gay, G…?” He actually blushed at his question. “I mean, it would be okay if you were, and everything,” he hastened to add. I knew he had several friends who were gay, so I believed him.

I shook my head and laughed rather too loudly, I think. “No -not as far as I know, anyway… I’m just defending the idea that people have choices in how they see themselves.” I was silent for a moment, realizing that George was thinking about it. And anyway, I guess he had as much right to try out a new thought on me as I had to attempt a rebuttal. He was no more ‘anti’ anything than I was ‘pro’; he just didn’t understand things outside of his lived experience. And perhaps I didn’t, either… So why argue about it? What did it accomplish?

The value was probably in simply discussing our opinions -testing them- not necessarily in arriving at the Truth. Perhaps this was one of those topics in which there really was no Truth -or if there was, it was different for each of us… How do we know who can actually see the Emperor’s new clothes…?

Reflections on 40 years as a doctor in Women's Health

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