I am going to be totally honest here. I was asked to write an opinion article and I was stumped. It’s not for lack of opinions; I was scared to say the “wrong” thing. What if I were to put out an unpopular opinion? What if when I wrote what was on my mind, I angered one of my friends or professors? Then I realized, that is what I have an opinion about. That I CAN speak my mind, that we all
should speak our minds.
Our country was founded on free speech, and we should not live in fear of that. One of the radical things about the United States of America was that everyone had a fundamental right to freedom of speech, religion, and protest. We could tell our friends, neighbors, and government exactly what we thought. Although now, 232 years after the United States of America was founded on this principle, so many people are afraid to say what we think due to the repercussions.
So much of this is due to how our modern American society is ruled by polar opposites, the toxic attitude of “either you are with us, or you are against us.” This is perfectly represented in our current political climate where both “conservative” and “liberal” are used almost as curse words; you are either one or the other, there is no in between. One cannot declare that they are politically affiliated one way or another, for fear of the criticism that will pour in. This polarity stifles the healthy, political debate and open-minded discussion that our nation was founded on. Eventually these “discussions” stray far from a debate and turn into a full-blown argument, with both sides refusing to concede that the other side has a valid opinion, eventually ending with both parties leaving with more hatred than before. The inability to respectfully voice our opinions and receive the opinions of others is tearing our nation and society apart.
This does not apply to just politics; it extends to ideals, religion, opinions on scientific theory, sexuality, the list goes on and on. These are all things that we attach to our identity to. To not be able to express these things is to suppress who we are. As a society we cannot be afraid to speak our minds. We have to be brave. We must take the great risk that is opening our mouth and speaking our truth.
There are caveats to all of this. If you are going to hold an opinion, know what you are talking about. Too often people believe without question what they heard a parent, politician, religious figure, or newscaster say. Repeating something that you have heard is not having an opinion, or even knowing what is going on: it is simply regurgitating someone else’s belief. If you are going to go around proclaiming your passionate thoughts on a topic, do your research first and make sure to look at all the points of view. You should think for yourself. The more you play the part of “the devil’s advocate,” the more you will know what you really believe, and it’s okay if that isn’t what you initially thought. So often, when we are forced to do research we have to question what was previously thought. When you are forced to question something, do not be afraid to do so. Questioning is a sign of personal growth, there is nothing wrong with questioning. Once you know what you really stand for and why you stand for it, saying what you truly believe will be less terrifying.
The other crucial part of freely speaking our minds is that we must allow others to do the same. There must be respect on all sides. If we want people to listen to what we have to say, each of us needs to listen to them in turn. This should not, and does not matter, if you agree with what they have to say. If every person entering a tough conversation came at it with the perspective that both views have validity and value, even if it is just personal, then the fear to speak up would be diminished. Every person who has the bravery to truly speak their mind deserves respect. Just one person giving respect this will inspire those around them to behave the same way, as well as empowering others to speak up. It does not matter if we agree or not, each and every human deserves dignity, and we need to give them that if we are to expect it in return.
So I urge you, speak your mind. Do not be afraid to say what you believe, and do not be afraid to receive new viewpoints and hear what those around you have to say. Allow for these new perspectives to challenge, but not overpower, your thoughts. Having a uniquely defined and well-voiced opinion is what our nation and society needs now more than ever.