SHARE
Wiki­media commons

Last spring, before Vice Pres­ident Mike Pence spoke at the 2019 Com­mencement, stu­dents every­where debated his atten­dance heatedly. Responses ranged from “Dude, I wish I got to have the VP at my Com­mencement!” to “I’m skipping grad­u­ation in protest.” It seemed like everyone every­where had a scrupulous opinion about what was ulti­mately — with all due respect to the Vice Pres­ident — a rather vanilla per­for­mance.

But it raised a question: Why does everyone have an opinion about every­thing?

The moment I wake up, I’m scrolling through Twitter, reading the news, and reading about the latest con­tro­versy. Some­thing hap­pened on the other side of the world 20 seconds ago, and 40 jour­nalists have already tweeted their con­dem­nation for it.

The Notre Dame Cathedral in France began to burn on Monday, and tweeters in Texas imme­di­ately debated what should be done about it.

Some things are just not par­tisan, but when Pres­ident Donald Trump says just about any­thing, everyone com­pul­sively takes sides.

In a day and age when every­thing is acces­sible to us, we’re expected to have thoughts about every­thing. We’re expected to have an opinion, whether we know about the issue or not. This pro­vokes some of us to study more, so that we can have edu­cated opinions. But it’s impos­sible to know every­thing about every con­tro­versy that erupts.

The bold assumption that we should all be experts con­tributes to an envi­ronment that actually dis­courages our eagerness to learn.

“‘What is the Tiger’s Woods?’ — a 6th grader in my math class who appar­ently pays as much attention to the news as he does to frac­tions,” one sanc­ti­mo­nious Hillsdale student tweeted recently.

The message is clear across all plat­forms: Be informed maybe, but have the right opinions always. Those who don’t are thrown into the lions’ den — or the “Tiger’s Woods,” as it were — of social media doxxing.

We see it on a smaller scale, too, in our everyday con­ver­sa­tions.

“How have you never seen this meme?” someone asked me recently. I tried to tell her politely that I waste my time on “more important things,” but it was useless. There was some internet dis­cussion about the meme, and she wanted to know which side I was taking. Never mind the fact that I’d only just learned about it.

Even our senses of humor are mea­sured by a secular world that is sur­pris­ingly Puri­tanical in exacting its sense of justice. But nothing is worse than the person who says nothing, because there are no words on which to pounce.

The speed at which we respond is also trou­bling. There’s no time to become edu­cated about the specifics of a Paris cathedral burning; the hottest takes are the first ones thrown on Twitter. You better hope your diplo­matic thumbs are poised for the moment dis­aster strikes, lest your 30 fol­lowers be dis­ap­pointed by not seeing your take on it.

The antidote to this is, of course, edu­cation: what we’re here to do. When I asked for his advice to an aspiring jour­nalist last week, a wise man told me I should focus on learning first.

“Worry about opinions later,” nov­elist and political com­men­tator Andrew Klavan said.

Ini­tially, I took this to mean in my writing as a jour­nalist, but really, it’s uni­versal: the impetus to speak, and speak now, has got us spewing so many knee-jerk opinions, it’s a wonder we haven’t gotten arthritis yet. Social media has us all feeling the need for speed, and in an effort to deliver our word first, we’ve dumped knowledge at the roadside.

Opinions are important. Nine­teenth century British poet Charles Mackay empha­sized this in his poem “No Enemies,” in which he smartly pops the bubble of those who claim to have no foes.

“He who has mingled in the fray of duty that the brave endure must have made foes,” Mackay wrote. “If you have none, small is the work that you have done.”

But there’s a dif­ference between cow­ardice and humility. Cow­ardice keeps silent out of fear; humility keeps silent when he cannot say any­thing useful. I can think of few things less useful than the first thought that comes to my mind when some­thing inflames me.

Our modern lexicon is full of useless and une­d­u­cated opinions, and just plain bad ones, too. Instead of adding to the noise — instead of spewing thoughts with con­viction about an issue we don’t under­stand, as though our intel­lectual worth depended on it — we should take the time to learn about the topic at stake.

Break the knee-jerk habit of having to have an opinion about every­thing. Your joints will thank you.

Carmel Kookogey is a sophomore studying Pol­itics and Jour­nalism.