This post originally appeared as a column in The Diamondback
I know very little about many different things. I’m not trying to be humble — I also know lots about a few things. Simply put, there are many areas in which I am not an expert, don’t have the relevant facts or haven’t considered all sides of the argument. It’s why I am wrong so often.
A few years ago, when I was less careful with my words, I learned a friend of mine was a vegetarian. I ribbed her incessantly. Thankfully, she was thick-skinned and willing to engage in a discussion about her moral position. I came to a deeper understanding of the complex reasons involved in her decision, and she forgave my joking.
Nuclear power, mental health stigmas, taxation, media quality, constitutional rights, US-Israel relations, animal welfare, media portrayal of violence, campus housing, abortion, Department of Transportation Services, Planned Parenthood, technology policy, education funding, immigration, health policy, the death penalty, drug use, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, drones on the campus — the list goes on. There are so many issues! And bringing up the wrong one with the wrong person will get you an earful or even a scuffle.
I have felt the twisting guilt of not knowing enough about an issue and the shame of having to ask why everyone is up in arms. I’ve also seen the rare courage of those who, upon hearing a clearly articulated counterpoint, admitted they were wrong.
So, what are we supposed to do? Let’s give voice to our uninformed opinions, even if they are wrong — especially if they are wrong. Let’s explore issues, listen closely to the opinions we oppose and challenge the opinions we admire. When we don’t understand, let’s ask for further explanation. Let’s not assume our questions are a burden to others or to make us look silly. Usually, people are glad to have a chance to explain something they know about.
When we share our dumb opinions — expecting others to help us learn — we also have to give up shaming ignorance. Particularly in college, people get all self-righteous because they know about a pressing issue and someone else is uninformed. Stop it! People don’t choose ignorance, and speaking down to people doesn’t help your cause.
And how can you judge others for their dumbness when your opinions on so many issues are equally dumb? If you haven’t got some dumb opinions, you don’t have enough opinions. The goal: to figure out, through conversation, which opinions are good and which are bad — which are rational and which lack coherence. You don’t know when you are right and when you are wrong — that’s the fun of being an adult.
We live in a strange time and place. People are segregated by beliefs and ideas more so than by race, class or interest. Empathetic, diplomatic individuals will make progress possible. What’s more, each issue relates intimately to others: The more you know about foreign policy, the better equipped you will be to discuss poverty. The better you can speak about gender equality, the more people will listen when you talk about weapons proliferation and peace.
While it is your duty as a mature adult to conduct yourself civilly, you owe it to your ideas to stand strong. Don’t be steamrolled or silenced by your opposites. As you give respect, so should you expect it. You will learn from people with very different opinions. How wonderful, how strange that reasonable people with access to the same information could disagree. You will become smarter and better-spoken; you will surround yourself with intelligent, passionate people, and your life will open up in ways you never expected. All from voicing your dumb opinion.