PHOTO COURTESY | WIKI COMMONS
Overcoming the worry of offending someone with your opinions is a freeing feeling.
Watching the news over the past two weeks, I have observed perhaps the most persistent, impassioned and, most importantly, coherent cries for social change within the last year, maybe longer. Of course, I am talking about the young survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that occurred on Valentine’s Day.
Regardless of your thoughts on gun control, the activism championed by these children is a powerful example of much-needed bravery and tenacity in an age where so many people, young and old, have begun feeling nihilistic and disaffected toward our political process as a whole.
Somebody will inevitably have something awful to say about you no matter how noble your cause. I, for one, never would have been that brave in high school, and I doubt any of the angry commentators would have either. We all have something to learn from these students. However, this article isn’t about guns; it’s about guts and standing up for what you believe in.
As Millennials and, in the case of incoming freshmen, Gen Z, we have grown up in an era where terror attacks are everyday occurrences, nuclear war is somehow always imminent and something as simple as going to school or the movies feels like a risk. You are allowed to care about these things. You are allowed to be scared, and you are allowed to be angry and passionate and loud.
Don’t you ever let anyone make you feel like caring is a fault, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Anyone who tells you that you don’t have the right to make your voice heard on issues that put your life at stake is no friend of yours and definitely doesn’t deserve as much worry and consideration as you probably put into not offending them.
I get that it can be daunting to really get out there and say, “This is what I believe,” especially here in the rural Midwest. A lot of us grow up terrified of conflict or disagreement of any kind — just about nowhere echoes louder than the halls of a small town high school. I went to one myself, and I can remember distinctly that saying anything remotely political was enough to get you branded as a crazy hippie forever.
So, like many, I learned to sit down, shut up and pretend that I didn’t have any opinions or thoughts at all. I am not the only person who grew up this way. I’m sure there are far worse societal ills a place can have. After all, we respect our elders, we go to church on Sunday and get along with everyone swimmingly; what could be wrong with that? Nothing, inherently, but for some people, ‘North Dakota Nice’ may come at a cost. In situations of terror and injustice, polite complacency is deadly.
When you spend your whole life changing and concealing your opinions because you are petrified of stepping on the toes of others, you just might wake up one day and realize that you don’t have any convictions at all. I know I certainly did, more than once. Navigating your teens and early twenties can be mayhem, and a few identity crises here and there is practically a collegiate rite of passage.
But I’m here to tell you that you need to stop that right now because the day I quit striving for North Dakota Nice was the day I really began to live.
It can be scary to start asserting yourself and making your beliefs known because what if people don’t like you? What if they disagree with you? What if you start losing friends? Spoiler alert, all of that will happen at some point in life and it’s best to just grit your teeth and get it out of the way. Your true friends will support your efforts to learn and engage, and family members who really care ought to be proud of you for speaking up.
Getting involved with local politics and protests my freshman year of college helped me make lifelong friends. It gave me a sense of purpose, sharpened my debate skills and helped me learn about both myself and the world around me, things I would never have learned if I had remained so committed to walking on eggshells and never openly disagreeing with anyone.
You will meet people who disagree with you; you will probably make them angry; you may even make them hate you, but this is all a learning experience. As you become more accustomed to asserting your own beliefs, and most importantly listening to others, you may also meet people who disagree with you but ultimately like and respect you as well. Maybe you will change your mind; maybe you won’t. This isn’t to say, though, that you have to be friends with everyone who disagrees with you because even though there are respectable and passionate people almost everywhere on the political spectrum, there really will always be some people who are just straight up hateful.
Nowadays, it may seem as if the days of universally loved, peaceful Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. are gone but I’m here to tell you that those days never existed. People hated MLK while he was alive despite the fact that his vision was objectively right, and previous generations spewed the same hateful vitriol about the supposedly “degenerate” young people in the ’60s that they spew today.
American suffragettes at the turn of the century were subject to the same ridicule as modern feminists, characterized as ugly, angry spinsters who couldn’t get a man simply for wanting basic human rights, even by other women. This is the broad pattern of social progress — somebody sees a problem, points it out and then is ridiculed into the ground by those who benefit from the problem.
Thankfully, people in the past didn’t take those criticisms to heart and kept yelling and fighting for what was right even when the world told them no. Don’t you dare let our generation be the one who finally gives up.
Change is possible; your dreams are valid and you have every right to yell and scream and fight like hell to make them a reality. Don’t waste the best years of your life being afraid of what people think.