This past week I found myself in the middle of a minor fracas on Twitter. A young girl posted some very intelligent, thoughtful, and informed political comments. I replied that it was heartening that she would soon be eligible to vote because we need more thoughtful and informed people out there voting. As they say, “Knowledge is power.” The more knowledge you have, the more powerful you become, and the better able to affect change.
While it was probably clearly implied which “side” of the political debate we were referring to in our comments, I never said that we need intelligent and informed people voting “only” either Democrat or Republican. It doesn’t matter which side you vote for. What matters is that you learn to think for yourself, form your own opinions, and base those thoughts and opinions on a platform of knowledge, not party politics, social media lies and innuendos, and half truths spewed out by biased media.
We don’t necessarily need “smart” people, as measured by IQ points, either. What we need are people who think for themselves and who take the time to uncover facts. And who, once armed with facts, take the extra step of parsing those facts into a solid position on an issue. Those qualities are getting harder to find these days. It seems like more people default to parroting whatever the media tells them, and schools aren’t teaching kids how to think and form solid opinions of their own.
The fact that this girl seemed to have her act together was a sign of hope for me. Maybe there is hope that knowledge and facts can one day win out over bias and outright untruths. On either side. Hell, maybe someday facts will show that there are no “sides,” just problems that need solving.
This need to be able to think and apply knowledge applies to any facet of life. I’m currently in the middle of a book series that, at its heart, explores this idea that knowledge can save the world. It’s something that I deeply believe. If people take the time to inform themselves and make decisions based on information, they and the world will be much better off. It’s ignorance and “doing as others do” without thought as to whether it’s the right course of action that gets people into trouble.
I’m not saying that you have to know everything about everything. Obviously, that’s impossible without some superpower involving the ability to touch a book and know the contents instantly. (Hint, hint, as to what might be appearing in my series later down the road.) But you do need to know how to find information. And no, simply looking online isn’t sufficient. (In most cases. There are some exceptions, but there’s a world of information that never makes it to Google. Books, scientific/academic journals, historical documents, personal accounts, etc. are all valuable and may not be indexed online.)
And you need to learn how to find information from a variety of sources, not just those that confirm what you already know and think. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to read about “the other side” of any issue, but if you want to fully understand anything, you have to know all the sides. Only then can you reasonably say, “I understand this issue and I choose to support the following position because…”
It’s the “because” in that last sentence that trips a lot of people up. Knowing why you support position X or Y is just as important as knowing that there is a position X or Y. But most people never make it that far. They know that there are important issues and they may even know which side they are on. But they have no idea why. Maybe it’s because their family has always believed a certain way. Or their religion dictates a certain position, or someone they find influential or who is popular takes a certain position. Sometimes it’s peer pressure. You take the position of the majority to avoid feeling left out. In any case, you have no idea why you hold a belief, only that you do.
This happens in everything from global issues like climate change to high school student council elections. (Does anyone ever really care about what the candidates say? No, they always vote for the popular kids.) It also applies when dealing with your daily, mundane life. Why are you choosing a certain cell phone, for example? Is it because it’s the popular choice, or because you’ve done your research and know it’s the model for you? Why did you choose your religion? Because you were told to, or because you did the research and soul-searching and chose the one (or none) for you? Why did you choose your college? Because everyone else went there, or because you evaluated all the programs and you know this one meets your needs. And so on.
Yes, these are random examples, but the point is that when you think about things, you’re likely to have a better outcome. Simply choosing something without information to back up that decision often leads to regret. Or at least a sub-optimal experience when you realize that the chosen thing, belief, or place does not suit you.
In the best case, having a well-informed position on things gives you a platform to affect change. It’s one thing to simply scream, “Support X, Y, and Z” as loudly as you can. You might even get a few people to listen, simply because they have no choice. But if you really want people to take you and your position seriously, you have to be able to engage in a dialogue on the subject. You have to be able to hear the other side and respond logically and with facts. Simply shouting down the other side won’t do it. (And that’s so much of what went on in the Twitter fracas I mentioned above that it quickly became exhausting. All the shouting accomplished nothing. But the well-reasoned words of one girl cut through the noise.)
Think about this: When you watch the nightly news and they cover a protest, which person holds your attention? The angry protester who simply shouts at the camera? Or the one who calmly talks about the facts of the issue while explaining why the group has come together to protest? For me, it’s always the latter. The shouter may capture my attention for a short time because I can’t avoid that person. But the reasoned individual will hold my attention longer because I want to understand what they’re saying. Big difference.
So what’s the point of this post? I really have no idea, other than to simply explore the idea that, if you want to affect change and have people take you seriously, knowledge is the key. Well, that and to remind people that not everything is about politics. Sometimes it’s simply about complimenting someone on their ability to think for themselves.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)