McGill: Yelling on the Plaza won’t change anything — it’s not us, it’s you

Haleigh McGill

I have seen fellow students and religious extremists alike spend an afternoon on the CSU Plaza yelling about something that is important to them to students in passing or the infrequent groups that gather — whether out of genuine interest or just to make fun — to hear what the speaker has to say. From commentaries on white privilege to the usual, “You are going straight to Hell, no exceptions,” a lot of stuff has been yelled on the Plaza. 

Consequently, I hear almost nothing but negative commentary surrounding the religious “crazies” who yell at us about our satanic and inappropriate lifestyles and do the devil’s dirty work for him by kindly letting us know that we will burn in eternal flames. While I don’t hear nearly as much complaining about our fellow students who yell (sometimes into a megaphone) about social justice passions and feminism and all that good stuff, the former and the latter have one important thing in common: They both blame their lack of success in getting through to their audience on their audience. 

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It’s us, the passers-by, who won’t listen, who are too selfish to change, who are too caught up in our own little lives to care about anything important. But, in reality, I think the bottom line is that raising your voice on the Plaza to anyone walking by, anyone who might listen, is an incredibly unproductive and inefficient way to get a message across. It’s a major barrier to a two-way discussion, which in turn conveys that to the speaker, they are right and the rest of us are wrong. Additionally, in that moment, most of us aren’t looking to listen to a lecture about the Lord or how feminists need to rise up and fight all the patriarchy, so our minds aren’t primed to take in that information or respond in the way the speaker might hope. 

Instead of standing in the middle of a campus Plaza and screaming your sometimes incoherent beliefs, calls to action, whatever, at people who are just trying to go about their day and aren’t actively seeking to get involved in the subject matter, what if you brought your voice down a bit and shared your ideas calmly to individuals or groups of people who are like-minded or share the ideologies you’re trying to get people to listen to or understand?

There is strength in numbers, and if you start small, even just telling one person, and they tell one person and so on, we all know what can happen: Eventually, you’ve started a movement bigger than yourself and will gain the momentum to become an agent for change. Now, that is power. That is how you yell without having to yell.  

So, for those who resort to screaming their truth on the Plaza, religious material or not: 

You aren’t “spreading the truth” or “teaching the Word” — you’re screaming your opinions at a bunch of college students going about their usual day who, way more often than not, don’t care. Hearing anywhere from five seconds to five minutes of your ridiculous preaching in passing isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, and even those who choose to stay for the entire presentation aren’t likely to run home and make a list of ways to change their life because someone on the Plaza, with a big head and loud voice, told them how they should be living it. 

Find those people who will actually listen to you, who you can collaborate with to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do. This has nothing to do with impeding on free speech or anything remotely related to that — it’s about effective communication and not wasting your time pushing a message onto people who probably aren’t going to be receptive of it. If your message means something to people, if it’s that important, then you shouldn’t have to scream it in the first place to call attention to it — the message should speak for itself. 

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