I want to have opinions too!

I raise my children as abstinent from opinions as possible. I have written a book about making TV and my kids have grown up without TV. I have written a book about the language of politics (both books are in German) and I try to raise our children as free from political opinion as possible. You might compare me to a butcher raising his children as vegetarians.

Yesterday my daughter came to me in the evening and said: "Daddy, I want to have opinions too! All the children in my class have opinions!" They exchange opinions during recess. I wish they were dealing with Pokemon-cards. Those have more foundation in reality.

I told my daughter the story of the The Blind Men and the Elephant.

You might not yet know this story.  Let me tell it to you, quickly and as I remember it (the latter two claims could be contradictory, but indulge me).

Blind Men Appraising an Elephant by Ohara Donshu, Edo Period (early 19th century), Brooklyn Museum

Blind Men Appraising an Elephant by Ohara Donshu,
Edo Period (early 19th century), Brooklyn Museum

The Blind Men & the Elephant

Six blind men were sitting and talking and someone who could see things had brought them tea. It was a half-sunny autumn afternoon.
An elephant stomped into their midst. “An elephant, an elephant!”, screamed the guy with the tea, and fled, burning himself on the hot tea pot, cursing the innocent animal. Luckily, nobody was trampled, at least not too much. A leg here and a shoulder there, in those years that was to be expected even on a weekday.
“Let us examine the animal”, said the most inquisitive of the six, “thus we shall learn, what an elephant is like!”
The men agreed and the research proceedings began. The blind men looked at the elephant, and they did so in the way that blind men look, by using their hands.
The elephant was slightly amused. He was only visiting. He had yet to learn the habits and study the lay of the land, and he knew that, and he also thought of the old saying: When in Varanasi, do as the Varanasians do.
The first blind man touched the elephant's foot, the second blind man touched the elephant's trunk. The third blind man touched the elephant's tail. The fourth blind man touched his ears and the fifth touched his tusks. The sixth blind man finally touched the elephant’s belly.
At this point, the elephant, his polite amusement gradually turning into irritation, moved on.
The blind men, left behind, turned to discuss what an elephant is like. It would not turn out to be much of a discussion.
The first man asserted: "The elephant is like a tree.”
“No, the elephant is like a snake”, said the second man. He had been examining the elephant’s trunk.
“You fools”, cried the third. He had been holding the elephant's tail, “the elephant is like a rope with a brush at its end!”
“What are you talking about”, the other men asked, “a rope with a brush at its end? What should that be? That makes no sense!”
“Well, the investigation is ongoing”, the third man mumbled, “for now it's a rope.”
“We don’t need any further investigation”, the fourth blind man announced. He had been pulling at the elephant's ear. “The elephant is like a sail.”
“Nonsense”, the fifth shook his head, a gesture which went for the large part unnoticed, “the elephant is like a sharp dagger!”
“No, no, no”, the sixth man announced in a firm cadence, “I checked and I checked again. The elephant is like a barrel. A big barrel. With strong walls and full to the brim with the finest wine. It is well known that the common elephant is a barrel of wine. The teachers of old tell us so. I wish, only once, to drink from this wine. But, alas, it shall not be as nobody serves wine to the blind from the large barrel that is the elephant.”
“For all gods’ sake”, the other five men replied, “what are you rambling about?”
“Maybe”, he admitted, “I got a little carried away.”
“Oh yes you did”, they laughed, “you got carried away, rolling downhill in a big fat barrel!”

(Just like me re-telling the story, I'm afraid. The version I actually had told was somewhat shorter.)

How to have an opinion anyway

“I understand", my daughter said, “but I still want an opinion of my own. All the kids have one. How do I have an opinion that is not stupid?”

I tried to offer her some new Lego instead of an opinion. Or ice-cream. Or a new pair of sneakers. She insisted, she really wanted that opinion and I will be buying ice-cream anyway. I am not a good negotiator.

“Let us talk to your mother,” I said. (Okay, that is what I say in most scenarios, so no surprise so far.)

“Together we will choose some books on history for you, which will explain the events that you hear about on the news today”, I said. (And by “together” I meant that Elli will do it, but I guess you figured that out by now.)

“If you really insist on having an opinion”, I said, “you need to know about history.”

“Valuable opinions are 95% history and 5% news”, I postulated, "with too many people it's the other way around. They only know what they heard on the news and they know almost nothing about history. That is why most opinions are stupid and it is preferable not to have an opinion than to have an uninformed one. But if you really must opine, read history first. The news does not tell you the full story of what happened. The news is only a suggestion what drawers of your historical knowledge you should open right now. It helps if there actually is something in those drawers.”

“So, if I do not read history and only repeat what I hear on the news, I am like the blind man who thinks an elephant was a barrel?”, my daughter asked.

I didn’t disagree.