My greatest challenges in learning to form my own opinions have happened this week. With all of the events happening right here and now, many of my friends have started to post about what ‘side’ they are taking. Memes are littering my Facebook feed that alter from making me shocked to making me upset, and occasionally I even agree and ‘like’ one of them.
But the biggest challenge has been when I post one of my own. Recently, it was one regarding the state of education in the United States (yep, it’s in a bad state). And immediately a Facebook friend took me to task for being ‘anti teacher’.
Now the meme had nothing to do with teachers. Instead, it said that the education system needs to be fixed to help straighten out the mess that would ensure someone like Donald Trump would be voted in as a political candidate. But immediately, the “us” vs. “them” started. And even though I started giving examples of why I agreed that the teachers weren’t always the problem, I walked away from the posts being frustrated.
There is a lot of bias in this world. Everyone has a bias – there is no getting around that. If you think, you have opinions, and you judge input coming into you by those opinions. And in today’s world where the media is for whatever reason focused on the negativity, or is biased based on the needs of the media source, opinions have become very sharp. People expect you to either be with them, or against them in your beliefs. The common ground has shrunken significantly, like I experienced with my teaching Facebook friend.
This environment of acute opinions and taking sides has caused significant harm, and I think there is a lot more harm that people don’t realize that is being done. A whole generation of young people are watching what we do; watching social media and seeing the comments and arguments. They are watching Fox News and learning from their parents how to be on the ‘right’ side, and to hate the ‘wrong’ side.
I especially have felt the harm caused by being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. When I was growing up, I was always questioning things. I won’t go into details, as I’ve had past posts that have had examples, at least from a religion standpoint. But realize that same frame of mind my family had was not just limited to religious beliefs. If I had questions about a specific preference, why someone dressed the way they did, why I grew up in a specific school or anything that might sound like it challenged my parent’s comfort zone of beliefs, I was slapped down. ‘Because that was just the way we ARE,’ they would say. ‘Because we don’t associate with THEM,’ was another one. And my favorite, ‘Because that is what we BELIEVE.’
Well, Why DO we believe that? No answer. Or that is when I would be sent away, sent to my room, or the subject would be changed.
It’s only now when I’m 41 years old that I realize the problems that upbringing had on me. Not that I share those limiting opinions, but because I was never ALLOWED to ASK questions, or VOICE MY OWN opinion. Because I got slapped down, I never was able to learn to talk with someone of a differing opinion and understand why they were that way. I was never able to understand and speak to why I believe the way I do.
Fast forward to the current time. Now I deal with the fact that I am actually afraid to put my opinions out there because others would not approve, and even worse, belittle me for what I believe. That’s what I got when I was young after all!
I don’t know if it is because of all the ways I was ‘slapped down’ as a child, or if it is because of being the type of person I am now, but there is one very big thing that I am trying to do as I heal from this tidbit of abuse I suffered growing up. And that very big thing is trying to be understanding.
People can have opinions and beliefs that they stick to. They can fiercely defend those beliefs all they want. But they have to accept that others may have a differing opinion, and that they can agree and disagree on the smaller points within those issues without losing face.
- You can accept the rights of gun owners and still want stricter legislation.
- You can accept that there is a significant problem with the treatment of minorities in this country and still believe that there are good police that do their job every single day.
- You can be a democrat and recognize that some republicans actually have good ideas.
- You can recognize that we have a lot of good teachers in our education system. And we have some really putrid ones too.
- You can accept the fact the black lives matter movement has some serious points of contention and not be racist.
- You can recognize that the terms Pagan and Heathen have personal meanings for different people.
- You can be a happy christian and understand that other people have other religions that are different than you and still fulfill the same purpose as you.
Where I will draw the line however is when someone deliberately doesn’t get their facts straight. If you aren’t actively seeking out media that has as minimal bias as possible; if you are getting your facts from ‘wehategunowners.com’, or ‘liberalmediasucks.com’ or whatever sites that are out there that focus on one side or the other, then there is a serious issue. We have to be willing to look at other people’s beliefs and understand why they have them. And the people we are trying to understand have to be willing to show what they believe without fear that they will be mocked, and have the courage to put their belief out there with the possibility that better facts may come along that don’t support it anymore. And when those facts come along, we all have to have the strength to recognize the stance is outdated, and it’s time to move on.
So one thing I can say from my upbringing, at least I understand from it now what not to be. I don’t want to be someone who believes something because that is what they were told. I want the facts, I want to understand the issues.
It’s hard to be the one to reach out and try to ask those questions. It’s taking me a lot of courage to do so, especially because I am so very afraid I’m going to be punished for it still. But I believe it is something that needs to be done. And perhaps someone will see my actions and try to start thinking the same way.
Photo from Deviant Art