McGill: A generation plagued by overprotected opinions and non-receptive audiences

Haleigh McGill

The duration of this year that I have served as the Collegian’s opinion editor has been packed with a lot of significant social changes, which have given people of the media and non-media alike much to talk about.

Not only are trends in politics, technology, social activism and other areas of prominent importance changing at an astoundingly rapid rate, but so are the dynamics of how we communicate with each other in general, how opinions and facts are presented and, perhaps most importantly, how opinions and facts are interpreted and/or internalized. 

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So, who’s responsibility is it to adapt to a social landscape that is evolving faster than ever before? Well, I’d say it’s everyone’s. I know, shared responsibility seems like such a cliché , and a cliché that never works at that. But, they say it takes a village and in our case, it takes a campus. 

Creating a respectful and understanding environment doesn’t require everyone to agree on everything. I wish it were easy to narrow the factors that affect our evaluations of other people down to the idea that their experiences and opinions simply make each of us unique from one another, instead of deeming them right, wrong, relevant or irrelevant to what we ourselves may feel, believe or think. 

I think that the bounds and definition of PC culture have been stretched a bit too far, causing a lot of people to become overprotective of their own ideas which consequently closes them off or even prompts them to act aggressively towards differing perspectives. All of the things that our generation has had the opportunity to witness, especially in the more recent years of our existence, were and are undeniable catalysts for conversation and debate. But that is wherein lies the irony: we can’t actually talk about any of it.

Amanda Kerri, a commentary writer for The Advocate, says that “We should be concerned with the radical counterreaction [of PC culture] that seems to be occurring, especially on college campuses, of people being overprotective of ideologies and emotions. … Challenging ideas and beliefs is something that activists, educators, politicians, and artists do as a basic part of their careers. However, in order to challenge these beliefs, one has to have a receptive audience, and part of being a receptive audience is having to face that challenge.”

From multiple infringements on free speech and the establishment of “safe spaces” on various college campuses in 2015 to heated and re-heated disagreements on CSU’s campus surrounding race, privilege, Greek community culture, gender equality and more — some of which sparked protests and demonstrations — it is becoming increasingly and obnoxiously difficult to voice an opinion with the intent to start a conversation without too many people seeing it as the intent to start a fight. 

When it comes to discussion and debate, whether it’s in every day conversations or via platforms like the Collegian’s website or viral Facebook posts, too many people have become so quick to put up harsh defenses before an actual attack, or any move at all, has even been made. If something someone said offends you, tell that person why instead of getting aggressive or telling them to shut the f*ck up. What good does that do?

It doesn’t have to be an angry fight. It’s supposed to be about learning and moving forward, not who’s right and who’s wrong. And yes, I realize that passion plays a part in this and I acknowledge that passion for your opinions and beliefs is extremely important. However, there is a difference between passion and anger, and too often the latter is used to convey how much someone cares about a specific issue. Too often, people are just straight up mean in response.

If opinions and social commentary are stifled, so too are progress and positive change. It is just as important to challenge your own opinions as it is to challenge those of others. 

This isn’t an easy period of transition by any means, and I think many of us, especially media organizations, are trying to figure out how to adapt and navigate that transition and adjust our communication the best that we can. There are a lot of factors that are up in the air right now that used to be somewhat grounded, a couple of those being how people will engage in discussion and how much of various truths people can handle.

But I do know this: Every opinion — from those published in the Wall Street Journal to those brought up in every day conversations — is just that: one person’s opinion. And in the words of Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

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Collegian Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.