More often then not, I find myself being silent when I want to speak up. I find myself swallowing back the words, swallowing back my voice from being heard. When I do speak up, it is mostly around those who agree with me, or with those who are very close to me (about five people) who I feel comfortable enough to vocally disagree with. But when questionable claims and opinions come from a stranger, an acquaintance, or friend who I don’t know that well, I find myself trading in speech for silence and either just nodding along or making vague statements that I know makes the other person feel I agree with them.
I think that’s a problem. I think my behavior is exactly how echo chambers and groupthink occurs – because dissenters stay silent while loud agreeing voices are heard. And so, ideas are not fully explored and criticized like they deserve to be. Groups of different beliefs become more polarized, a stronger us vs. them mentality develops, and unity between people of different groups becomes a more impossible goal.
I read and studied about these effects in college and believed them to be true, but never really placed myself within that truth. I believed myself to be strong enough to speak up, but when the time came I found that the words stayed hidden in my throat. I would rationalize this by thinking to myself: “Now is not the time for this kind of talk” or “Whatever I say won’t make a difference to this person and will just cause unnecessary argument” or “Maybe what I want to say isn’t 100% accurate so it’s better for me not to talk about it at all” and other such phrases that would somewhat make me feel better about staying silent.
But these are all lies. If now is not the time, then when? How do I know my words won’t have any effect; isn’t it possible that at least some of what I’m saying might get through to them? And can an argument or position ever be truly 100% accurate?
Now, more than ever, it is important to speak up. And not just against the opposing side – it is important to examine and criticize your own beliefs, thoughts, and arguments. Why do you believe what you believe? What evidence do you have for your belief? What are the sources that you are getting your information from and are they credible? Is your logic sound? What are the flaws in your arguments? What are your biases? These questions and more are what we must ask ourselves in order to ensure that our thinking is critical and what we believe in is justified.
After closely examining ourselves we must also closely examine those on “our side” – what are the flaws in their arguments? Simply because someone shares the general beliefs and principles you do doesn’t mean they can’t also be problematic and say things that are flawed. We must call out these flaws of our allies and criticize their arguments in order to strengthen our position.
As I learned while gardening: trimming a rose bush only makes it flower more beautifully. Similarly, we must trim the flawed aspects of our beliefs, thoughts, and arguments in order to have a more beautiful result.