Question Everything

Feb 21, 2011

Hannah Kolkmeier - Springfield High School
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

 My 17 years of life have taught me that the world is a complicated place. The cultures that exist across the globe are vastly diverse and it seems people are quicker to disagree than agree with each other. In a world littered with conflict, I believe in the power of debate as a tool to bring about change. I believe that the world cannot advance without constant questioning of our actions.  And isn’t that what we all want? To leave the world in a better state than when we entered it? I know I do. I desire a better world, one without genocide and poverty, corruption and war. For this to happen, we cannot allow ourselves to become numb to these terrors.  Irreversible damage is inflicted with every car bomb that explodes in the Middle East and every polar bear that dies in Arctic, simply because we have an aversion to change. The solution to these global issues lies in questioning our current practices. I don’t mean to suggest that I somehow possess the key to peace in the Middle East or the end to global warming, but it is safe to say what we are doing now just isn’t working. It is time to take a step back and reflect on why we do the things we do.  Without reflection and debate, we cannot repair flaws or move forward.

It is no secret that Springfield, Illinois is a politically conservative place. So, by the time I got to high school, I was aware that most of my peers did not share my family’s liberal views. In school, my history teacher announced that we would discuss current events each day in class.  Politics were a frequent dinner table topic at my house so I couldn’t wait to dive into a discussion about the latest updates on the war in Iraq or a controversial bill up for a vote in the state legislature. My optimism was quickly crushed. It became clear that my teacher’s intention was not a class discussion about world events, but an opportunity for him to share his political and religious views. I listened as he spouted the accomplishments of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration in general. This was followed by an exposition of his belief that gay marriage is an atrocity and women should not have the right to choose. 

Without reflection and debate, we cannot repair flaws or move forward.

All around me, my classmates’ heads nodded in agreement. I attempted to speak up and challenge the claims I believed to be false. Instead, I was silenced by both my teacher and classmates. My teacher stated his personal beliefs as if they were fact, and my classmates agreed without question. What frustrated me about this experience was not that I was alone in my viewpoint, but that the teacher would not allow any real debate to occur. World events are not isolated incidents. They are complicated issues with many sides to every story. Most importantly, they are events that deserve to be discussed. The students in my class only received one side of each news story. I craved the back-and-forth action of a debate. I wanted to state my views but also ask questions about why others believed the things they did. This class introduced me to the idea that the only way to determine definitively what is right and what is wrong is through knowledge. This knowledge comes from understanding the perspectives opposing your own. Then, and only then, can we address the specific differences and inconsistencies we may observe in all our opinions.
 

There is nothing wrong with having strong opinions or beliefs. The trouble comes when one considers these beliefs to be completely and eternally unchanging. The world is constantly changing around us.  New information, technology, and ideology are introduced daily. I believe that if we open our ears to opinions that differ from our own, we may change our minds about some of those “eternally unchanging” viewpoints. Or maybe we’ll decide that our original opinion holds up against this new information. Whatever the outcome, the act of debating varying attitudes is a vital step in determining the right path to choose. Nothing is beyond question: tolerance or intolerance, faith or science, reason or emotion, nationalism or pacifism; all of these concepts are worthy of debate. Debate is the cure for political and intellectual stagnation. In a world of growing passivity, real debate is infinitely important. The best thing we can do as people is question everything. This I believe.