What Do You Think?

To many of us, I suppose the idea of being opinionated is elementary. A teacher gives us a three on a paper or the statement of a rule in the Blue Book is slightly rearranged, and suddenly everyone has an opinion about why this event has come to pass. Opinions are fleeting. Spoken with unintended abandon and with unintended connotations, they serve every decision we make, achieve every victory, despair in every loss. And most opinions, at least most teenage and fickle opinions, rarely agree with the facts and are even more rarely researched to consider them. I’ve heard people say that we are apathetic, lacking compassion, interest and curiosity for the world around us, because our minds are consumed with History 300 papers and Family Guy. I disagree. Even in the small world of Andover, which is indeed a world with copious fodder for complex, diverse beliefs, we are surrounded by people with different backgrounds, different interests and different views on every situation, large and small. You have heard them, I have heard them: the conversation that a good (or awful) All-School Meeting can spark, the gusto with which we complain and praise every miniscule grade point. Our opinions are everywhere, at every table in Commons and in every classroom on campus. So why, when one of us is approached to put that opinion onto paper, to explain it in a paragraph with proper grammar and with the appropriate gusto, we cower in terror? Are we afraid of our own thoughts? Well, afraid they might offend someone, perhaps. Afraid they are unfounded, possibly. Or afraid that someone will proclaim you an idiot and offer another, perhaps better, stance on the problem? I don’t want to say that we are afraid, because the Andover population, the promising, fearless, 17-year-old, I-can-do-anything-just-watch-me generation, is not afraid of anything, certainly not the validity of their convictions. But despite the fact that every student has opinions, most seem unable to attempt to type them onto a document and print them for the school to read and discuss. Although Andover can provide more freedom to speak your mind than almost any other setting, this student body has an intense obsession with being right, and a complete abhorrence to the W word. Even in those classes where we are graded on how we present our thoughts, the subjective opinion of the teacher becomes the standard of what is correct, and anything else is simply not fit to be said. And it’s no coincidence, because our whole lives up to this point have been about making the “right” choice: SATs? Converge on the “best” answer or despair. Sports? That goal can mean the difference between recruitment and your fourth choice. It is no wonder, then, that this attitude has leaked into how we share our opinions, and whether or not we choose to print them. Maybe, then, we need to think about the difference between being right and being confident. Opinions are, by definition, neither correct nor false. Even if an opinion is naïve or misinformed, it can never be considered erroneous. Sharing your opinions with the Commentary section, then, may seem different from turning in a paper, because although these articles are scrutinized and discussed, they will not be judged or graded. Having your opinions printed does not require the conviction that you are right, but the confidence that your opinion matters. Do our opinions matter? I hope they do, because we are the I-am-future-hear-me-roar generation, and if they don’t matter now, well, then how can we assume they will later? If you have an opinion and you think someone should care, then perhaps you should consider writing it down and standing behind it. I promise you, the Andover community will thank you. Thea Raymond-Sidel is a three-year Upper from Iowa City, IA and a Commentary Associate for The Phillipian.