As much as parents detest that their little angels don’t always show love toward each other, it’s not unusual for siblings to quarrel. As a parent, I often heard one of my daughters say to me, “Dad, make her stop looking at me.” I always wondered what was so bad about that look. Was it a hateful look or a look of jealousy? Did my daughter conjure up what she thought the look meant, or did she have some special ability to know exactly what her sister was thinking? Sibling rivalry can start before a second child is born, and as children attain different phases of growth, their needs can radically affect how they get along. I finally came to the conclusion that my children were just being children.

What’s in a look? Generally speaking, a person’s appearance does not predict how they will act? It is impossible to simply look at someone and know who they are on the inside. It’s easy to look and see the color of a person’s hair, to see if they are bald, short or tall, or if they are skinny or fat. But what can’t be determined is someone’s intentions just by looking at them. That is, unless the person making the determination is equal to a comic hero who’s developed dazzling deep-seated telepathic power.

Not in every case, but a person’s age can provide a clue to what they might be thinking. By looking at the qualities that a person has previously displayed, people can gain insight into that person’s thoughts. The inflection in a person’s voice, what they say or don’t say, and their body language can also provide clues. These are just understandings, clues or insights, not always a measure of facts. There simply isn’t a way for anyone to look at another person and know for certain what’s on their mind.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear someone stand in front of a television microphone and say what they think or believe. Thinking or believing is merely an opinion. An opinion is an assumption that is often not based on fact. While people may believe in their hearts that they are correct, what most people want to hear is not what someone thinks, but what someone personally witnessed or heard. I subscribe to the adage, “Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see.” Most people believe things because of their own past experiences or their many personal biases. Too often, many folks have beliefs that are as close to being accurate as the moon is close to the earth.

Today, it seems to me that people’s opinion is allowed to be used in courts of law fairly regularly. Perhaps more important, biased views are regularly accepted in the court of public opinion.

People’s opinion in America causes more unrest than tornadoes, tidal waves and hurricanes. Americans have evidence and opinions; one is a fact and the other is a lack of knowledge. Stubbornly hanging onto an opinion that isn’t supported by fact is a definite sign of irrationality.

One of the largest issues we face in America is the phrase, “Well, I heard.” Just because someone holds an elevated position, doesn’t mean that their belief is correct. Their idea could be goofier than 1929s Popeye the Sailor gaining sleeve-splitting strength from eating a can of spinach. Movie and television stars spout their opinion. Politicians spout their opinions, but how much of it is hearsay? How much of this information can adequately be verified? Hearsay, when one person testifies what they heard someone else say, is not normally allowed in a court of law.

My retired schoolteacher wife used to have students read one newspaper story then write down what they read. Ultimately, they shared as many opinions as she had students. It’s absolutely necessary to obtain information from a variety of sources in order to learn actual facts. Another big concern facing our society is that too many people don’t want to hear the truth because it does not fit into their agenda.

Opinions that are not based on facts are fundamentally causing the American people to argue and fight. Sgt. Joe Friday on the early television show “Dragnet” allegedly never said the words, “Just the facts, ma’am.” But just the facts can go a long way toward solidifying the different phases of growth and rivalry that’s currently plaguing our nation. We can endeavor to obtain real facts, or we can just be children.

Charlie Sewell is a retired Powder Springs police chief. His book “I’d Rather You Call Me Charlie: Reminiscences Filled With Twists of Devilment, Devotion and A Little Danger Here and There” is available on Amazon. Email him at retiredchiefsewell@gmail.com.

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