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Of Elephants and Men

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Where opinions may be wrong, but where all opinions may be of value.

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It's been a long while (read: months), but once-in-a-while you will see someone in an argument exclaim that opinions can never be wrong. That this statement is both true and false adds irony.

While opinions are never right or wrong, what is sometimes claimed to be an opinion is not really an opinion at all. By definition, the difference between an opinion and a statement is whether or not the value can be wrong or right. Often though this is falsely skewed to meaning whether or not what is being suggested has been proven as of yet.

In regards to hockey debates and conversations, the conflict often lies with framing.

An excellent analogy with this is in the parable of the blind men and an elephant.

There are many versions of the ancient story, but they all have the same basic framework. A few traveling blind men come upon an elephant that they can only touch. Each person feels a different area and proclaims what they believe the object to be. Yet, not one of them guesses an elephant.

Each judgement, or opinion, is truth from their vantage. You cannot say that any of the men are wrong in their unique exposure. Each blind man asserts what they believe, filtered by their own experience. They are right.

However, despite the truth in their experiences, they are ultimately wrong in their statements of what the object is.

When we, as human beings limited in our abilities, make judgements on players and teams, we do so like one of the blind men. What we experience is truth from our vantage, but our conclusion may in fact be incorrect.

Now don't get me wrong. I make no claim to be as the omniscient narrator. Nor do I claim the current state of hockey statistics to be without fault either or an ultimate authority.

However, there are other morals available for extraction from the parable...

The blind men were not only limited in their senses, but were also limited in using resources available to them. There were additional details easily available at their disposal. Trend analysis and other usage of hockey statistics are simply that: more information. I can't find the quote to appropriately credit, but someone once asked how many would be opposed to shot metrics if they were simply rebranded as more information.

Each blind man held a different part of the puzzle, but all were too stubborn as well. When their neighbor attempted to contribute by describing a different experience, they disregarded it because it was not like their own. How often does this occur? How often do you hear of people dismissing the information given by statistics simply because it does not align with their own experiences? One of the best quotes I've heard recently came from Jonathan Willis:

In specific instances where eyeballs and analytics disagree, an intelligent man asks why the discrepancy exists and investigates further

Even though the ultimate conclusions by each individual (or just some) may be wrong, there may still be something of value.

Maybe, just maybe, we should all just get along.