I’ve mentioned before that one of the biggest things college taught me was to have an opinion. As a communications student, I sat in classrooms where the students spoke more than the professor, where speaking up and sharing your opinion was a part of your grade, and if you walked out at the end of the semester not having changed your mind about something the professor felt as if they’d failed you somehow. More than anything else I learned in my four years in college, I value this lesson: that sharing our differing opinions is one of the most important things we can do as a society. That without debate, we can never move forward or change as a society.
Last week, while having a discussion about abortion on Facebook, a girl I was friends with commented that we should both shut up before we upset someone with our opinions. Before our ability to have a civilized, grown-up discussion about an incredibly important subject insulted someone.
The thing is, we weren’t fighting over what color to paint a room. For that matter, we weren’t fighting at all. This discussion was between me and my best friend, whom I’ve known since the 9th grade and whose opinion on the subject I already knew. We were sharing opinions, pointing out flaws in one another’s arguments. We were reaching a middle-point, a center on which we could both agree.
It’s a problem I’ve seen more and more lately, this idea that opinions should be kept to oneself and we should all go through life imagining that we all agree on everything lest we should find that someone have an opinion differing from our own. Just the mere suggestion of a debate, a professor asking his law-school students to have an opinion – whatever that opinion may be – on a controversial subject is apparently so upsetting as to cause petitions to be signed, tests to be forfeited, and professors to apologize for breaching the subject lest they should lose their jobs.
It’s a subject that’s particularly upsetting for me, as someone who thrives on debate and knows how important it is to our continued society. Who knows that without it – without differing opinions and the sharing of those viewpoints – we would never move forward together.
Without opinion, Rosa Parks would never have sat at the front of a bus. Without debate, women would never have gained the right to vote. Without difference of opinion, freedom of the press would not exist, and you and I would not be here writing every day.
If you take nothing else away from what I write here, I want it to be the same thing I took away from college: that your opinion matters. Voicing that opinion in a civilized way, discussing it with people who don’t necessarily agree, is important. Because without disagreement, we would never find a middle ground.