The Opinions That You Don’t Have A Right To

One of my greatest frustrations regarding interaction on The Internet has been that everyone, including the Village Idiot, has access to a loudspeaker.

That frustration has led myself, and many others, to find life a bit more peaceful when we decide to not engage with folks who show up to a water balloon fight with empty balloons, which is too bad for the few folks out there who genuinely want to learn from the people who have developed a level of expertise in any specific area. It’s confusing for the interested to attempt to sift out good information from good sources against people who literally make up an opinion and happen to have a good sales pitch.
You don’t have a right an opinion that you haven’t earned. Would you argue with a surgeon on how best to carry out a surgery? I know that there are folks out there who would, and they should be ignored. I mean, everything that comes out of their face is likely horse shit.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t be inquisitive or even mildly disagreeable, but you should know when to shut up and listen. If I’m building a house, and the subject of conversation is the roof, I need the plumber to pipe down. It’s not his turn to talk, and vice versa.

Vet your sources. Ask yourself questions like:

  • “Who taught them?” Have they had a source of direct influence and instruction?
  • “How long have they been active in this field?” Having a grasp and having an understanding aren’t the same thing. Maybe you can hold up in conversation after a few exposures on a subject, but that doesn’t mean you understand it on an expert’s level.
  • “How does their opinion compare to those of other trusted sources?” Are they making claims that are just way out in left field? That’s a sign.
  • “Do they ‘sound’ like those other sources?” The terms that we use when conversing on a well-documented topic don’t really change that often. If you’re hearing new lingo being thrown around, that’s another sign.

For that matter, make sure YOU have or are a legitimate source. Does your information come from watching TV or movies? Magazine articles? Facebook? Internet forums? If these things are what make up your portfolio of knowledge in the subject of physical endeavors, keep your mouth shut. Particularly when the people who’ve “been there and done that” show up and start talking. Listen to these people. They know better than you do.

A quote from Brian Jones of the Old School Bjj Facebook page –

“Knowledge without experience is always incomplete.

Some things defy description. The spectator can never understand. Only the participants truly know. And only to the level of their participation.

On a map, terrain has no meaning. A mountain is mere lines. Its magnitude can only be understood by standing at its base. Deeper understanding comes with each step of the climb.”

What gets so frustrating about this stuff, is that the folks who haven’t put in the time and effort to actually go out and acquire these experiences, but still enjoy speaking from a position of authority, are snubbing the ones who have, whether they realize it or not. This goes for just about anything. If you’ve never played football, don’t argue with your kid’s coach. Don’t tell the pro body builder that he doesn’t know anything about diet. Don’t preach at peace officers on how best to handle criminals.
I was out shooting one day and during a discussion on shooting technique I made a comment regarding what an instructor had told me. The fellow I was talking with said “You don’t think I know just as much as some instructor?” I had a really hard time not laughing in this guy’s face. The fact that he would make that statement tells me that he knows ZERO about the subject, because if he’d ever tested what he thought he knew or had taken even one firearms class, he would have had a bit more humility.
I know several people, myself included, who have invested literally tens of thousands of dollars and years of time in the pursuit of knowledge in both hard and soft skills, and almost every one of them will tell you that they don’t have this stuff figured out. There are instructors who have spent hundreds of thousands who will say the same. An example is that I’ve spent probably close to $15,000 just on learning jiu-jitsu, and I will tell you in a heartbeat that I’m not good at it. That’s a relative thing though. To the untrained, I’m virtually unstoppable. To world champions, I’m a chump.
You know what the guy who bolts all kinds of bumpers, snorkels, lift kits, big tires, winches, antennae, ridiculously bright lights, and rock sliders onto his truck realizes the first time he drives himself into a challenge that’s over his head? That no, he can’t make it happen because he reads 4X4 And Off-Road magazine and has $10k on his credit card. “Stuff” alone rarely gets you any real advantage when it’s go-time. You learn to drive in bad conditions…by driving in bad conditions and learning from that experience. The lessons are less painful if you have an experienced person coaching you. You’re gonna be sad when you’re stuck on the side of the road in your $75k+ super truck when some kid in a rusted-out 80’s model pickup truck with peanut vines hanging out from under it not only drives past you, but stops to save the day because he’s been doing the thing that you’re playing at his entire life.

The point of this write up is not to berate or belittle people. My goal here is to get folks to be honest with themselves, their experiences, and their capabilities. Just be you. If you’re not a pro shooter, don’t tell people what to do on a range. If you’re not a professional coach, don’t yell at your TV. If you’ve never made it to or through one jiu-jitsu class, let alone a decade’s worth, don’t tell me “jiu-jitsu sucks”. Chances are, there is a ton of stuff going on that you don’t even realize is happening. “Why didn’t he throw the ball to ____?” Could be because the receiver dropped THAT PASS ten times this week in practice. “The surgeon screwed my shoulder up.” Are you sure you kept up with your after-care as recommended? Or did you do something you were told not to do, because it “felt fine”? Asking questions is perfectly fine, and what you do with the answers to those questions is up to you, but don’t spray an opinion around the room that you haven’t come to hold honestly.

Have a degree of recognition as to who you’re talking to when you start giving people your opinions. If you’ve never built something from the ground up, don’t tell the person who has how they’re getting it wrong. It may not be what you think it should be, but it’s really…quite literally…not your business. “I’ve never done it, but here’s how you should do it.” Does that not sound goofy?
If you want to be an authority figure in any endeavor, go learn how to be one! Listen more, talk less. Curb your inner Couch Captain and go sit in front of the experts and listen to what they have to say. When they’re talking, especially to each other, just listen. The information and experiences are out there, all you have to do is show up and put in the work. Do I get stuff wrong? All the time. Do the pros get stuff wrong? Sure. That’s what sets the do’ers apart from the Armchair Quarterbacks. Making mistakes, recognizing shortcomings, and working to correct them. Even the mistakes that experienced people make are different, and likely require an experienced answer. I’m a fan of the Do-acracy. Those who do, decide.

Take care of yourself.

Mark Luell, of Growing Up Guns (follow his blog), looking studious while I make stupid faces during a selfie at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference 2019.
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