I hold these truths to be self-evident

There is an entrenched, prevailing attitude that an opinion is only valid if it can be supported by evidence and logical, rational argument. There’s an additional view that you learn nothing if you only listen to people who agree with you.

I don’t agree. Someone can be in love and not explain why; and to find a song or poem that puts those emotions into words doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t real. Opinions are borne of experience and sometimes we need an articulate writer to express and justify our thoughts better than we ever could.

That’s not to say we should be blinkered and obstinately ignore every contrary point of view. We should open our minds to new ideas, be willing to experience new things, and have the humility and courage to change opinions in light of new facts.

A rational opinion shouldn’t be based on logic but on understanding. Look up the etymology of ‘rational’ and you find it traces back to Latin words for ‘reckoning’, ‘judgement’, ‘calculation’. At first glance, these words all imply a process-driven, in-depth evaluation of the facts. In practice, these are often instinctive. Our minds learn to recognise a situation, a scenario, a pattern, and apply some basic heuristics to make decisions. Over time, these instincts change through experience.

Furthermore, opinions are beliefs. Beliefs don’t need to be justified, just stated. Take the Tridentine Creed, recited at mass by Christians around the world: “I believe in one God, The Father, The Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”. Or the opening of the US Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

You can disagree with these sentiments but you can’t say they are wrong. These affirmations are illustrations of leading by example.

In that spirit, below are some of the things I believe to be true. I don’t care to justify them and I may change my mind in the future. That is the beauty of opinion.

*           *           *

It is better to have an open mind than to insist you are right: always assume you don’t know something.

Manila. Bangkok. All the other places degraded and denuded of their natural beauty and cultural charm in the name of growth: this is not progress.

Don’t chase prestige or success; do something because you enjoy it, not because it will bring you fame and fortune.

Don’t judge your quality of life by that of your friends or peers: marketing and conspicuous consumption have led us to pursue what we’d like to like rather than what we do.

Bringing pleasure and enjoyment to other people is a noble goal, so don’t be afraid to flaunt your artistic talents. Never think this is not a worthy calling.

Skills are more important than intellect. You don’t have to be intelligent to be good at something.

Don’t meddle in things you don’t understand and can’t comprehend unless they pose a serious threat.

The news is depressing, opinionated and often misleading. Most of the things you’ll hear or read won’t affect you so stop worrying and stop following.

Experiences make far better presents than material gifts.

Bigger is not necessarily better; it’s doing something well that counts. I’d rather the UK had the world’s most reliable airport than the world’s busiest.

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