On January 17, 2019, I wrote a blog about writing judicial opinions. A year later I wrote one about abstract opinions. Neither effort got down the nitty-gritty—your opinion.

                Judges write for the court or at least a majority on the court. Abstract opinions are not meant to be taken personally, or even pointedly. But your opinion is different, isn’t it? It belongs to you. You own it. It can be shared, but not stolen. It can be repeated, with attribution. It’s not off the cuff or just a random thought. It is a no-doubt-about-it judgment about something. It need not be based on fact or knowledge. Inherent in most opinions is the shared understanding that an opinion is an estimation, usually of the value of something. But that does not mean it’s a mere impression and possibly not formed on the basis of positive knowledge.

                The dominating feature of your opinion is its malleability; it can change, like weather or underwear. It can be reshaped or extended by hammering, forging, etc. If it’s a weak opinion it might not hammer or forge well—call it plasticity. It can be a state of mind or character, or in some cases out of your mind or character. It’s something you hold, or hold onto, or change, or spit out like a rotten banana bite.

                It has high value to the holder and chump change to those of the opposite opinion. They found evidence of it in Europe in the 14th Century. It stems from Middle English opinioun, borrowed from Anglo-French and Latin—opìnìon. And less no hole in the road be missed, Madame Wikipedia says it is most subjective, non-conclusive, possibly fallacious, could be just a desire, and not “hard” fact.

                Whew, it’s not a lot of things, isn’t it? But an opinion is yours if you say so. Editors and nay-sayers cannot squish it down to the slush pile any more than opponents can eat it. It’s yours. As are the ethics of it. It has norms.

                Maybe it’s just an advisory—sort of a precursor to opinion. It’s not legally enforceable. If it is important, well-formed, accepted, and not loony toons, then you can use it, sparingly or at scale. An advisory has no ethical imperative. It often takes the form of an official announcement made by someone in authority.

                Opinions can be about war, peace, good health, death, fog, or just a light frost. Above all, an opinion is not trash-talking or rash writing.

                If you’re a writer and writing your opinion, then you are ethically obligated to your readers.

  • Without readers writers have no context—no audience—no voice.
  • You have an obligation to dilute stereotypes.
  • You should not use your platform, your voice, or your opinion to instill a call for violence, misogamy, hatred, or rude behavior.
  • You owe your readers authenticity—honesty—truth—currency—completion—finality, and anticipation.
  • Most of all, you owe a sense of purpose in stating your opinions. If your purpose in opinionating is to persuade, make that clear. If your purpose is a bias, let that show. If your purpose is to entertain rather than inform, say it that way and don’t hide truthful elements in favor of bias reporting—especially when your reporting is your opinion.

                And, lest I leave one nit unpicked, remember that this is my opinion.

Gary L Stuart

I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

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