Thinking for Yourself

As an eighteen year old, I went through a period of soul searching. I had been raised in a rather sheltered environment where I was surrounded by people who thought and believed in certain ways and taught me likewise. I then found myself in a very different environment. I was now in the minority, surrounded by others who had grown up believing and living rather differently than I had. Some even challenged and questioned my beliefs because they conflicted with their views. My question to myself at that time was “Do I believe these things and have this particular view of the world just because that is how I have been taught, or are these things accurate and true?” I wanted to know for myself, rather than rely on the faith or knowledge or teachings of others.

Through a process of study, questioning, and life experiences, I came to a certainty about my basic beliefs. I also gained some perspective through recognizing and attempting to understand other points of view. I was able to have positive relationships with people who thought and believed quite differently than I did.

As I observe today’s youth, I wonder how many go through a similar process and how many simply accept what they are taught as truth?

When I went to College, I expected my beliefs to be challenged. Even at that time, University professors tended to be liberal and often challenged any faith based beliefs or actions. They called it “thinking for yourself”, but it was actually code for “throw out whatever you have been taught and accept without question what we teach.”

Today, however it seems that for many students who grew up in a more liberal and secular environment, the Universities merely reinforce what they have been taught already. Rather than being in a environment which causes them to examine various viewpoints, to study and question previous assumptions – to think for themselves – the views they have grown up with are reinforced as being factual, true and the only proper way to view the world. Other viewpoints, especially any faith based views, are dismissed without consideration and even mocked or given any number of negative labels.

If asked to actually defend a position, would they they be able to use logic and reasoning to defend their beliefs? Could they see potential for error in their position? Could they begin to comprehend another perspective? Or would they just say, “Of course this is right, everyone knows that”? Would they back up their beliefs with liberal taking points or quotes they have been fed? Would they mock any opposing views as being silly or ignorant or even hateful?

How would they respond to being mocked themselves for believing what they have been taught? Would they become defensive and seek a “safe space”? Would they take offense and accuse those with opposing views of attacking them?

Why can’t they see that others can disagree with them and still be good people? Is it necessary for them to label those with opposing views with negative labels to reinforce their feelings of being right?

Could I be Wrong?

There is an important but often neglected process which begins with the important question: “Could I be wrong?” This is not simply doubt, but rather an openness to consider the possibility that what you have believed might not be totally right or that something else – an opposing view – might at least be partially right. It is realizing that you might not have all of the facts or the whole picture. This is the beginning of learning and understanding – of truly thinking for yourself.

As I have seen the response of many University students to the results of an election which did not turn out as they wanted, hoped or expected, I am left thinking that somehow something important has not been taught to them. Not just that things don’t always turn out the way we want. Not just that they don’t understand the electoral process. But there seems to be a sense that this liberal, secular ideology that they have been indoctrinated into, in their minds is so absolutely right, that it is inconceivable that anything else could be.

Have they not been taught that diversity is not really about varied physical appearances, but diversity includes accepting that there can be numerous ways to perceive and understand our world? And that maybe their view, is not only not accepted by others, but may not be correct? Have they not been taught to think for themselves? Now that students believe what is being taught, is there no need to ‘think for yourself?’

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