Sasha - Eugene, Oregon
Entered on March 25, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

I believe in expressing dissent.

John F. Kennedy said, “Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive.” Communicating stances and views to others makes for a more intellectual and understanding society.

It also is extremely beneficial personally. When I voice my disagreement with something, I feel free and sharp. At these points I feel my smartest, when my mind can flow openly and relieve pounds of pressure and thought. I feel unique and important.

Not speaking up for my beliefs has the opposite effect. In my high school Global Literature class we studied Kenyan colonization. Our teacher showed us a British movie poster from the early- to mid-1900s. The poster had a tall, Indiana Jones-like white man with large muscles holding a skinny white woman with large breasts in his arms. In the front of the scene was obviously the “bad guy”, a very dark shirtless African man holding a whip made out of animal skin. In class we discussed how racist this poster was, my whole class appalled that something this racially discriminatory was actually displayed in public. Nobody said a word about the sexism. The urge to say something was burning in my mind, screaming at me to raise my hand and point out the sexism. Yet, I didn’t. I was too worried about what my classmates would think of me. I had recently been speaking up a lot, and they seemed to be tired of my disagreeing. I felt so trapped sitting there, my soul being battered, my freedom locked away across a raging river, without enough time to ford across that river and reach it. That memory is still fresh in my mind, always intruding.

However, I don’t exactly regret my decision to say quiet. Although I feel awful that I didn’t speak up, the part of my brain controlling social situations offsets the regret.

The problem is not that people do not have individual ideas. The problem is the social pressure not to express them. Schools permit and even encourage this behavior. In health, we watched a movie about sexism. It seemed to have similar views as mine on the surface, but as I watched I began to feel almost tricked by this movie, like it was trying to slowly change my opinions. The experiments described weren’t careful science. It was then that I realized I wasn’t trained to disagree—it was hard for me to recognize that this wasn’t what I thought was true, and that I had a right to disagree. Schools teach children to learn the material taught, no-questions-asked. Often I am tested on opinions of the people we have read, as if those opinions are fact.

Kennedy advocated debate and criticism for the good of society. I have learned that overcoming the pressure to keep silent is good for me.