Exploration, not confrontation

September 25th, 2014



Imagine someone has just asked you about one of the latest stories in the news.


For our sake, let’s use the United States’ bombing of Syria as an example. Your friend wants to know if you’ve heard the details or know the background. You respond that you have heard the story. Now that you’ve both established your knowledge of the event, you begin to share your opinions about the story with each other; what your visceral reactions are, your thoughts, questions and the like. Conversations about such topics typically progress in this way.


Our society typically defines such interactions as normal, typical or casual. But take a closer look. When we share our feelings, we are actually asserting that we have answers or understand the proper course of action.


We think, or at least pretend, that we possess the key to unlocking some of the most perplexing and convoluted questions that our world faces. In my classes, I’ve heard more than a few students spout off their answers to international crises as if the solutions were so evident that it was offensive to even ask in the first place.


But with national leaders and pundits expressing frustrations and indecision openly, there must be things that we, as students, are missing.


If students actually have pieced the puzzle together, they should step into the top positions of our government.


Sadly, though, the issues that confront our world are not so straightforward. Their nuanced, delicate details make them vastly complex and exponentially more difficult to remedy.


With this in mind, students should immediately drop their penchant for blurting out answers. More directly, students shouldn’t feel compelled to give solutions when they are asked for opinions.


What’s wrong with being indecisive? If you ask me, I’d say nothing. So often, we hear adults, teachers, friends and family asking for our opinion. In moments such as these, I usually panic. I assume that my ideas and opinions have to be well formulated and immutable. But with issues that contain many dimensions or situations that continue to unfold each day, what’s wrong with taking time to weigh and consider each viewpoint for its respective merits?


Quick thinkers and decision makers are always lauded in our day and age for their ability to act and choose quickly. But reinforcing the employment of such behavior in all situations might cause more damage than good.


Think about your own classes. Written papers or responses are typically expected to be argumentative. They have to take a side and defend an opinion. In order to write those papers, students devote gross amounts of attention to information that confirms their beliefs and undermines opposition. They don’t usually search for unbiased information or information that contravenes their own views. Thus, students construct a lopsided depiction of situations in their mind.


So the next time a friend or teacher solicits your opinion, give them just that. Offer your unadulterated understanding of the situation, complete with your questions and confusion.


Vocalizing honest thoughts, rather than feigned convictions, leads to learning. Don’t perpetuate the social norm of viewing serious issues too simply. Resist your reflex of immediately espousing half-baked solutions and simply take a step back.


Don’t shut yourself off from new ideas too quickly. I’ve found, in whatever situation presents itself, that choosing a side too quickly cheapens the views of the “opposition.”


I find myself ignoring mostly valid arguments and complaints in the sole pursuit of reaffirming my own hastily-reached conclusions.


Break the habit of thinking there’s an ultimatum for “choosing sides.” Think your thoughts freely and conduct your research without prejudice. Only after thoughtful, concerted efforts to understand the information should you consider drawing your conclusion.


Liberate yourself from old ideas and venture into new grounds. It takes getting lost in the problem to realize you’ve found your answer.