When you were young, I know you had this argument with your peers:
“My dad said…”
“Well my dad said…”
“You’re all wrong, my dad said…”
It could have been your mum, your grandparent, or any other authority figure that made the statement. But the common thread is that you didn’t know the topic for yourself, you just trusted whomever you were quoting and you angrily defended them -- perhaps to the point of tears.
Then you grew up, and you replaced your childhood authority figures with new ones. You chose a religion, a political party, or maybe just a group of friends who seemed to know what they were doing. And you started quoting their opinions as your own.
University tried to knock it out of you. It tried to teach you to question everything, to fact check, and to cross-reference. But it’s exhausting doing that in the real world -- so you picked a group of people who usually seem to represent your point-of-view, and you shortcut the process by deciding to agree with whatever conclusion they came up with. That’s why when a news story breaks, you have an opinion on it straightaway. You may not have your own opinion, but you have an opinion that has social currency and will advance your status in your group.
It’s too uncomfortable to have your own opinion, to put your name to something new. As soon as you’re an adult, free to make your mind up on your own, you seek out someone to tell you what to think again. It’s like when you opened up Google Earth for the first time -- you probably brought up photos of your own house, rather than of somewhere you’ve never been to. You feel safer with what you know, and having others tell you what you know.
This is why you get so angry when someone questions your opinion. If you’re honest, you probably don’t know the topic that well -- but your heart isn’t after the truth, it’s after a sense of belonging. You need to belong to your group. So while you don’t know for certain that your group is right, you hope that they are, because you rely on them for your sense of identity and security. You’re probably even afraid of the truth, because it could change the way you see your group -- and the idea that they may be wrong is as frightening as it was when other children questioned your dad.
The problem is, the world is a grim place, and the current contribution of religious, political and social groups is not enough to solve its problems at the rate that is needed. Did you ever consider that you are the missing link? Did you ever consider that in not seeking knowledge and sharing your own opinion, that the world is missing out on your good and intelligent contribution? Your voice isn’t changing anything by echoing someone else’s.
The world needs you to find and use your own voice. It needs you to do what you didn’t do then, when a group of men, women, and children were bobbing up and down in a boat in the ocean.
When the government said, “The majority of asylum seekers are economic migrants,”
You said, “The government said, ‘The majority of asylum seekers are economic migrants.’”
You didn’t read the government records on asylum seekers arriving by boat, which revealed that the majority were refugees fleeing persecution.
The government said one thing to you and another in the records because they knew you wouldn’t look there. And they turned the boat around and sent the group of men, women and children back to their country of persecution.
The world needs you to do now what you didn’t do then. It needs you to have the confidence to pursue the truth over your own need to belong, and to be brave enough to speak up. You may find that your group is more tolerant than you thought, and that your diversity brings a richness that is valued. At some point in our lives, we all need to speak up and step out from under our parents, our mentors, and our groups. It’s only when our mouths aren’t full of other people’s words, that our eyes can truly see what is. And only then will we start to create solutions.