Why our opinions get us in trouble

“The history of human opinion is scarcely anything more than the history of human errors,” Voltaire said a long time ago.

Health professionals are trained to give opinions. It’s what we do every day in caring for our patients and leading our teams. Sometimes, however, it’s better not to give an opinion – or at least sit on it for a while.

Admittedly this is not always easy to combine with busy clinics, fast-paced lifestyles, opinion-based social media and rapid news cycles.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman described two ways of thinking in his well-known book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

The first method, which he called system one, is fast, intuitive, runs automatically and cannot be switched off. It generates first impressions and intuitions based on experience. It is however subject to errors and biases and is poor at performing statistical estimates.

The second way of thinking, referred to as system two, takes more conscious effort and time. It is normally in low-effort mode but when system one runs into difficulty, system two will be engaged.

The two systems can work effectively together, as long as we are aware that our first guess, based on system one thinking, may not always be right and that we need to verify it by applying more analytical system two thinking.

The challenge, as I see it is, to have an opinion and an open mind at the same time.

This is an edited version of an article originally published on NewsGP.

6 thoughts on “Why our opinions get us in trouble

  • Great reflective points! (as always!)… heartily agree (if not always very good at doing this myself… 😉


  • Thanks Edwin, I think the problem is not with opinions, but conclusions. Not adapting our points of view to new information and/or not accepting that other people’s opinions may be equally as (or more!) valid. As you said, the key is keeping an open mind. Though whenever I hear the term “open mind” I think of the Tim Minchin line “If you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out.”


  • our opinions only gets us in trouble with people who think that diversity is only in people looking different but having a”group think” mentality. We need diversity of thoughts and our looks will be totally irrelevant.


    Liked by 1 person

  • You are right, sometimes it is better to give no opinion in the medical profession. Quote from Jennifer Brea’s Ted Talk
    “I don’t know” is a beautiful thing, “I don’t know” is where discovery starts”

    Liked by 1 person

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