This I believe: That my opinions are valid. That might seem self-evident; the right to each have our own opinion is a foundation of our democracy. In practice, though, I have only recently begun to believe it is true of me. I listened to “This I Believe” last week, and immediately disagreed with it. Next, as usual, I second-guessed myself. Perhaps I didn’t really understand what the author was saying. Maybe I should think more about it. Then I decided that my opinions are simply different from hers, and surprisingly, I had a flash of realization that this was ok.
I’ve never given my own ideas as much validity as those of others. I defer to their opinions, I stay quiet when I disagree, I acquiesce. I’ve often felt that in a society where the loudest voices get the most press, I was unusual in downgrading my own preferences and opinions. However, I am by no means alone. The same day I had my shocking revelation that my opinions deserve to exist, I read an author explaining why she remains anonymous online – because she feels unable to publicly claim her own opinions. What if she’s wrong? What if people disagree with her? That’s how I feel, too.
What makes us this way? Many things in society can conspire to silence a person’s voice, starting early. Old etiquette rules say children should be seen, not heard. Gender constructions are strict regarding what girls and boys each like. The church says to look to God for guidance, never to yourself. Whatever the causes, it took until now to realize that I had never allowed my opinions to be a part of myself worth defending, to see, for instance, that it is ridiculous to keep my car windows closed even on a sweltering day so nobody can overhear and criticize the station I’m listening to.
I have begun to find my voice, and to trust myself. I believe that I am capable of making decisions and forming opinions, and that those are right for me regardless of the conclusions others may come to. It has been a slow journey, facilitated, ironically enough, by the anonymity of the internet. I started, tentatively, by posting comments anonymously. Then I began using a consistent pseudonym. When nothing horrible happened, I began to use my actual name. Finally I started to express my opinions to people in person. So far, I have survived. I still have a long way to go, but I have finally convinced myself that I have a right to my own views, regardless of how many others share them. I can even publicly admit to some of them now. For example, I think people are fundamentally good. I believe there is no solid evidence for gods. I like Barry Manilow. I really hope no one I know sees this. All right, I may still be embarrassed by them, but they’re my opinions, and I have a right to them. That, I believe.
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