Strong Opinions, Lightly Held

A few weeks ago, I listened to this great podcast episode from Hanselminutes with James Bach.  While the podcast is normally about programming topics, this particular episode was more about auto-didactic learning.  Near the end of the show, they talk about the concept of ‘Strong Opinions, Lightly Held.’

The idea behind this concept is that you have very strong opinions about something, but you’re not dedicated to it.  You can make a passionate defense of a topic, but when presented with contrary evidence, you simply switch over.  Imagine making a very strong argument and then going ‘Oh, you’re right. Nevermind.’

This is something I don’t think very many people understand, but as someone who’s philosophy is scientific in nature, I’m very familiar with it.  I’ve experienced this countless times where I’ve made what I think is a very good argument for something, then had someone completely destroy it with a simple counter argument.  At that point, I have no choice but to change my mind.  And that’s a good thing.  It means I’ve learned something new, and I’ve progressed in some way.  It’s something I strive for, and when I see it in others, it’s something that gains them immediate respect in my eyes.

Being ‘wrong’ about something has been unfairly stigmatized in our culture.  If you change your mind about something, many times you’re viewed as a ‘waffler,’ or someone who doesn’t know what they believe, or someone who lacks principles.  In reality, it’s just the opposite.  Changing your mind when faced with a better argument does not represent the lack of principles, but dedication to the pursuit of truth.  Is is the embodiment of the idea that truth is more important than the self and that any opinions, beliefs, and views one has must bend to reality, because to do anything else is delusion, by definition.

It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, that you can’t be misled.  It’s easy to imagine a situation where you hear what you only perceive to be a better argument, and in reality, you’re missing some vital information that would clearly demonstrate its incorrectness.  The beauty of this philosophy of ‘strong opinions, lightly held,’ is not that it always leads directly to ‘truth,’ but that it’s self-correcting. If you take the wrong path at some point, it’s easily corrected once you do have the required information.  You never reach ‘absolute’ truth, but you do get closer to it with each iteration.

If there is a path towards wisdom, it surely must begin with the recognition of your own fallibility through self-examination, and this is exactly what is represented by ‘Strong Opinions, Lightly Held.’