When I first heard that I would write for Opinions this semester, my psyche welled up with tears of pride. This new development, of course, marked the pinnacle of both my personal and professional lives. It would be as though Maureen Dowd and Mark Shields had a baby, but the baby was actually Paul Krugman’s the whole time, and then because Maureen Dowd was too busy doing press conferences to carry a fetus to term they decided to use Roger Ebert as a surrogate, which was made possible by a complicated biomedical process developed by Fran Lebowitz in her spare time, and that baby was me. Then I took a minute to think about it and I realized what it actually meant.
To be perfectly honest, I’m terrified to be writing for Opinions. Partly because it’s just not Life and Style, and I abhor change and resist the natural ebb and flow of life as it only serves to bolster my already overly keen sense of mortality, but also because my new position necessitates that I take refutable stances on serious issues that might affect the larger community. This is something that makes me want to hug my knees in a puddle of vomit. Contrary to popular belief, some sassy rhetoric doesn’t mean that the message is particularly groundbreaking or controversial. And while people might commend the bare-all style that characterized my column, “The View From South Campus,” in its first incarnation, I can tell you without a doubt that it’s really not so hard to stay safe from hard-line criticism when you’re writing about your daily life. For all my moaning and groaning about being put out to pasture with the arrival of the new freshman class, way out there in the pasture is not such a bad place to be when you’ve got laurels to rest on and a single-topic column that grows staler in your increasingly jaded hands.
Do I have strong opinions? Yes, I do. But a central component of my shtick and an integral part of the way I manage to stay in the public’s good graces much of the time is that, for the most part, I keep them to myself. Furthermore, I figured out a long time ago that if I pretend not to have interests or passions, not only does that prevent everybody from using my interests or passions against me, it also makes me look really apathetic and cool and then everybody will want to be my friend so that we can hang out and do nothing together.
But for all my tendencies toward feigned apathy or nervous vomit, I’m realizing now that it’s way more fun to do something than it is to do nothing, and that it’s also the responsible thing to do. This section has seen more than its fair share of discourse on discourse at the 5Cs, but the discussion is still not where it needs to be. The standard liberal arts educational framework encourages critical thinking and innovation. Yet, force-fed canon, while all too often improperly equipped to digest it, and constrained by a system of thought that privileges half-baked concepts of relativism and political correctness, students are frequently unmotivated to seriously evaluate issues from original standpoints. Equally unproductive is the tendency to place complete emphasis on the “critical” in critical thinking while failing to try alternatives such as criticism for its own sake.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, a piece refreshing in its no-nonsense stance toward stance-taking, “You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… A wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”
Officially, 5C culture is not big on intentionally offending people, and that’s a good thing—imagine if it were. But when the fear of offending or of being offended impedes meaningful conversation, we’ve got a problem. I think there are ways to opine, even to debate, without offending; perhaps more stimulating, I think that some ways of offending are more useful and less personally damaging than others. If you present a respectful, well-written and well-reasoned argument against someone’s belief, then that person, unless he or she or zhe is a supercomputer or a piece of wood, will be upset or resentful. This does not necessarily mean you should not have written your respectful, well-written, and well-reasoned piece.
Expressing our opinions – especially our strong or potentially unpopular but deeply held opinions – is an area where we as a community have to improve.
So join in the debates! Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, or do be afraid, only insofar as it causes you to ask yourself why you believe it in the first place and if it’s worth defending. In the words of my personal spiritual guru, Joss Whedon, “Always be yourself, unless you suck.” Don’t forget that keeping an open mind doesn’t mean that, at the end of the day, you shouldn’t decide that some ideas are better than others. If you’re such a special snowflake, take responsibility for your ideas and viewpoints and let us know what they are. Welcome back, and happy sparring.