Penned with Zen

Leaving the armchair

By Benjamin Kramer
On March 28, 2014

Slow week for new topics. Or a busy week; it depends on what is interesting to you these days
Let's consider the whole Russia debacle. If that makes you want to write off reading the rest of the column, bear with me- this is not going to be some political tirade, or even really about Putin and NATO not being chummy. Goodness knows every newspaper and media outlet has had enough articles about Crimea and Ukraine, written by the resident "expert" or reprinted by whoever wrote the most appealing piece from the Associated Press for the day.
Using the word "expert" with quotations is not meant to be interpreted with complete scorn. It is, however, indicative of the emotional undercurrent that is felt when the writer's view is not quite aligned with your opinion of things. Let's face it: you either voted for Obama last election and want to strangle anyone that mentions how weak our president is making our country look, or you voted for Romney and heave all-knowing sighs when people remark about his "geopolitical" comment way back when. Maybe you bring up either of these viewpoints, and people try to derail the conversation on an account of apathy. It makes it very easy to sneer or shrug off what other people have to say.
That's a good thing, right? Rolling off another's argumental points means you yourself are a well-informed human being, and know fact from fallacy. Full of information and learning, playing 'spot the bias' has become a simple tool to participate in all discussions. Who needs background on the given topic when an educated individual can easily deduce a relevant opinion? Far be it from someone else to introduce an alternative perspective on things into your world.
As a fellow student, I can realize how sobering it is to realize "your world" has been molded and formed most recently by attending a public research university in the liberal Northeast of a first-world country. If you think yourself above such subtleties - be it because that one time you lived in such country, volunteered on some charted "fight poverty" program or another life-changing experience - good for you. Life came at you, went, and you took the effort to learn something from it while it was visiting. At such a ripe age, you have developed enough understanding of the things to be set for the rest of your life.
In the previous statement, "ripe age" is used as an alternative to "twenty-something," partly because some of you are still teenagers. It is also relevant, because it illustrates how frustrating it can be when others would write off your opinion just from your age because you have not checked off enough life-changing experiences. Because considering how many years you have to go, it is considered impossible to have established your own outlook.
Neither of these positions -  being all-knowing or considered the opposite - are very appealing options. Do you risk coming off as all-knowing or ignorant? Or do you have a well-reasoned opinion, but are not interested in someone challenging it?
This is fairly pertinent to people in academia. It is additionally important for everyone to be able to participate in discussion. To participate and hold discourse is not to present your viewpoint and hold firm against anything contradictory. It is a task of presenting your thought and recognizing where it falls flat. Arguments with clean black and white answers are few and far between. Alternatively, it is important to realize life is varied, changing, and what was clear to you today might be seem different tomorrow. It is not about learning something once and moving on, but rather constantly challenging how you think. If you are doing it right, you might realize life is more complex than you initially thought.
That there is what makes it so interesting to keep exploring and learning.


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