I’ve tried to draft this post so many times in the past, but each time it seemed to fall flat. Balancing opinions with insights is a difficult thing to do, and the last thing I wanted to do was dilute the point. I want to express my love of information, not as a cynic, but as someone hopeful that everyone will take a bit of time today to learn something new.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved history. My parents took me to Colonial Williamsburg as a girl and I was in heaven. I read and re-read the Little House on the Prarie books and imagined my life as an early western settler. I’ve watched documentaries about the history of Christmas, how the Federal Reserve system came to be, and how the Hoover Dam was built, all for fun.
Out of that love of history came a love of politics. As I got older, I began to think about the complexities of a newly-founded colony seceding from England, about why the electoral college exists, and how in the world the Vietnam War took so long to end. Questions like these come naturally as you start to ponder things, and opinions are sure to follow.
We all know what opinions are like, and I’m not here to talk about mine (I’ve got Twitter for that). However, the importance of having an opinion in the first place is something I do want to discuss. This is a hard world, and a scary world, and an absolutely terrifying political climate no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on. Having that knowledge isn’t fun, but it is SO important.
I’ll be the first to tell you that keeping up with the news exhausts me. I feel too much empathy and too much anxiety to possibly read every headline, and I understand how people become complacent. However, staying informed is too important of a privilege to sacrifice to stress. We can learn so much about nearly anything we want to, yet so few of us take the time to learn about the current state of the world. We can connect with friends from elementary school via social media, but we don’t take the time to connect with our elected officials who decide how we live our lives.
So I urge you, no matter your party affiliation, learn what’s going on. I promise that ethical journalism is still out there; take the time to read it. Learn the bills your Congressional representatives are sponsoring, and send them an email if you disagree. Mail off that voter registration card and exercise that right, both in election years AND in mid-terms (because the mid-term elections are just as influential). Read from different sources, credible sources. Listen to NPR. They’re an industry standard for a reason (I recommend the Up First podcast!). America is a place where every voice can be heard — but if you’re going to talk, know what you’re about to say.
Speaking of voices being heard, America isn’t a place where every voice is heard at the same volume. If you’re a person of privilege who doesn’t comprehend that, expand your horizons and learn why. If you don’t understand why a movie with an African American cast is significant, watch the movie. If you’re open to learning, you’ll learn. If you don’t know why women march, what Black Lives Matter represents, or why people are concerned about the business of private prisons, just learn. Don’t let an article tell you what those things mean or why people do what they do. Go out and learn it yourself.
Basically, I’m rehashing the syllabus from Scientific Writing 1010, which coincidentally is the class that made me cry the most during college. However, the sentiment remains: do your own research, find your own sources, and come to your own conclusion. Unlike my scientific writing professor, I’d rather not read a 500-page paper about anyone’s conclusions — but I still want to encourage others to have their own.
The fact that we can learn, access information, and then use that information to influence how our country operates is incredible. We’re so lucky that those before us have fought for our right to representation, our right to vote, and our right to learn. We’re also lucky that those around us are fighting for even more rights and freedoms for the generations to come. Coming from the south, moving to the west, and being exposed to a wide variety of people along the way, I do believe that most discord could be solved with a bit of education and an open mind.
So I urge you to learn about something you don’t understand today — whether political or not. This is a huge year for elections, find out when yours is. Let your voice be heard, and stay quiet while those you haven’t listened to are speaking. Knowledge is uncomfortable but knowledge is power, and the importance of remaining informed in the information age cannot be overstated.