February 28, 2013
There is nothing more discouraging for an editor of our Opinion page to hear than “What should I write about?” All I can respond with is “Well… your opinion.” I often get a lackluster, noncommittal response such as “I don’t really have any opinions.” What? Seriously? You are a young, aware college student at an extremely volatile time in your life living at an even more volatile time in the world’s history. How do you not have an opinion on anything? Upon reflection, I have developed my own three-part hypothesis explaining this baffling phenomenon. Our generation’s lack of voiced opinions is the result of a mixture of apathy, the overwhelming amount of information we have access to and the fear of judgment we face with pretty much everything we do.
First of all, us young people don’t seem to have any opinions because a lot of us just don’t care enough to have opinions. We aren’t really all that aware. Many college age students find themselves either completely apathetic to what is going on around them or just too busy to pay attention. When there are three-hour labs to participate in or 200 plus pages of reading to do per night, can you really blame us? Some may call this sort of thinking lazy; others may argue that it’s just the result of prioritizing.
We are the generation of the information age. With the right key words and a strong internet connection, we could find out anything about pretty much everything. Every time you search something you will be flooded with page after page of information, most of which will be completely irrelevant to what you actually want to know. It takes time and energy to sort through this mish-mash of facts, figures and possible falsities. How are you supposed to know who to listen to? How are you supposed to know what the actual truth is, or if there is a truth at all? And when you’ve already inhaled all of this information and all of these viewpoints, why would you take the time to come up with an original viewpoint of your own?
The final point, which is, in my opinion, the most disturbing development, is that most college students (people, really) have valid opinions but are too afraid of judgment to actually voice them. Self-censorship has got to be the main factor in this unfortunate situation. Even at a school as open and free as Hamilton College, we can see this fear at work. Countless students would like to have their voice heard in The Spectator, but a good portion of them will only do so if they are allowed to write or be quoted anonymously. We can’t even compliment each other face to face; we have to go through a Facebook page. In some classes, doing thoughtful analysis and presenting your own personal argument backed by relevant evidence will not guarantee you success as long as the opinion you present differs from your professor’s.
You can’t do anything in this day and age without bringing judgment down upon yourself. Not only do we have to worry about the immediate insults and critiques that are likely to be thrown our way, but also all of the possible judgments in the future. Everything finds its way to the web, anyone can see it at any time, and you never know what could possibly be used against you. The fear of judgment is real, and to a certain extent very valid.
While I can think of all of these reasons for a potential writer to balk at my suggestion to write their own opinion without me spoon-feeding one to them, I must say that I do not really understand them. How can anyone expect to go out into the world and be a contributing, successful member of society when they can’t even take the time or have the courage to formulate and present their own opinion?
College students are all at a unique time in your life, and at a very unique place. If there is any time and any place that you can get away with ranting about your own viewpoints, it is here and now. Take advantage of it.