“The World Is Changed By Examples, Not By Opinions” – Not Quite True

“The world is changed by examples, not by opinions,” a quote by Paulo Coelho. You’ve probably seen it in other forms on the internet. Usually it is cited as “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” It is a minor variation but can affect how it is interpreted.

Like most pithy generalizations, it can be used incorrectly. Instead of giving an esoteric or confusing example, I’ll give you a real-life snapshot to visualize.

A young man, Jake, secretly disagrees with his family and friends about gay rights: they are staunchly opposed, while he is completely in accord with the LGBT community. The more Jake sees people being discriminated against based on sexual orientation, the more frustrated he is with those who are guilty of it. He watches, listens, and disagrees. At church, he notices that Jenna, a choir member,  is often posting pro-LGBT information on social media. Jake begins to read Jenna’s words, noting that she gets a lot of negative commentary for her posts. She handles them with aplomb but never wavers from the insistence that it is bigotry to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Over time, Jake internalizes the logic Jenna presents and begins to challenge his friends and family.

Did the female choir member “do” anything? Or was she just owning an opinion?

I think it’s obvious that while she didn’t “do” anything substantial, she used the tools available to express her opinion in such a way as to cause a change in another person’s behavior. This, in turn, began to challenge the young man’s friends and family, who otherwise would have been unchallenged in their discriminatory beliefs. Her opinion caused changed.

Whether we are posting on social media or discussing important issues face-to-face, opinions can and do cause changes in the world. They are not “just words.” Words from the right source at the right time are often the perfect catalyst to bring people out of silence or to change their reactions to people and what happens.

Opinions can be powerful. Opinions combined with action probably lead to results with greater frequency. However, we shouldn’t discount properly expressed opinions as catalysts for change. A speech seen in person or on TV, paragraphs in a book, or words read from a blog can all be powerful enough to start us thinking differently. A calm conversation between pastor and parishioner, a relaxed chat between parents and child, or even a classroom presentation from a great teacher can all transform from opinion to lasting knowledge and action.

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