I was at a High School graduation party sitting on the patio with some friends when an older man came and sat down with us. We got quiet, which is what usually happens when an adult sits down in a gossipy, teenage discussion, so he threw out a firestarter, something about the war in Iraq.
I thought he was patronizing at first, so I was silent while he began a conversation with the girl on my right. As he questioned her, the usual blood-for-oil diatribe began to spill out of her mouth. She sounded like a parrot that had just flown out of Farenheit 9/11.
The older man was receptive, but did not give any hints about his own beliefs. After each point, he would take it in, think, and toss out another question. He began to seem genuine. The war in Iraq is a touchy subject. Some adults I talk to about it try to impose their opinion on me. All I can say is “I don’t know.” Even if I did have a strong opinion, why would I tell them? They are looking for validation, comfort in numbers, and little else. I’ll be damned if I give them inner peace. I guess he saw the nauseated look on my face as I listened to the girl deliver the routine. Some others chimed in during the exchange, but not me, so I was surprised when, as the conversation lulled, he turned to me and asked, “what do you think?” I thought, turned the question over in my head. The talk had turned away from the war in Iraq to a more open-ended conference about what social problems plague America. As the recluse in me tried hold my mouth shut, the radical intellectual brought out the jaws of life.
“Look at me,” I began. “What do I know about the war? For now, very little. That may or may not be bad. When I can vote, I will gather up the necessary information from sources I know and trust, think about it, and fill out an informed ballot. But it worries me to see people so confident in what they know regurgitating sound bytes when in actuality they haven’t taken the time to look at all sides of an issue. Some people have their topical responses so prepped, it’s like
they are memorized. We could be talking about affirmative action, the war, keeping Kosher, whatever, but all they can do is spout out the narrow opinions they’ve caught by word of mouth.”
I didn’t know what else to say.
I believe that independent thought is dangerously scarce. Everything must be questioned, checked, analyzed, and reanalyzed. And it must happen with every generation. Mine is no exception.
It isn’t about opposing all convention or beating a topic to death. It’s just simple consideration, like in first grade.
Think about the whats, whys, whens, wheres, and hows. What you learn on your own is just as important as what you are taught by others.
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