I can’t seem to forget a moment. It pops up every few years, when I’m looking for an analogy, even though it’s hardly that. It was just a moment.
It was my sophomore year in college. I was taking some telecommunications class, not all that interesting but necessary. The instructor was a nice enough guy, probably in his 30s, with an early career in radio before switching to academics, I guess. He definitely had opinions about things.
So, he had an opinion about subject A. “Subject A is relatively equivalent to subject B.” I’m obviously making this up. Just bear with me.
There was a guy in this class who was vehemently opposed to the notion that A had anything to do with B. Let’s say. Pretty vocal about it. Argued with the instructor a bit in class about this. Clash of opinions, really. Nobody’s mind was changed. And I’m pretty sure nobody else in the class cared.
Although I did. Not about A and B. I was curious about this argument, and why it was taking place, and then came test day.
There it was. “Subject A is relatively equivalent to…”
Pretty easy. He’d been saying it all semester.
And then the tests were eventually returned, and that other guy in class got the question wrong, and he started arguing again. He was a little more heated, although the instructor stayed calm and very clear that he was sure about this whole A-B thing. He heard the argument, discussed it, and dismissed it.
After about five minutes of this post-test whining, I finally spoke up and pointed out that we’d been told the answer to this question for weeks. Why was this guy complaining about it? If he disagreed with the answer, he could continue to disagree and still not harm his grade. Or, if he was that passionate (and it was some incredibly stupid thing to hold an opinion about, I remember that much; like at what voltage a transducer will begin to pop and click, or something like that, technical and boring), just write down your noble, if wrong, answer and take your lumps.
And this other student called me on it, almost plaintively, asking me if I was going to just do what others told me to for the rest of my life instead of taking a stand.
This guy was a year or two older than I was. Didn’t matter. If this instructor, in this subject, had told us that the moon was larger than the earth, and it was on the test, I would have answered that way. This was not my battle. I know all about the moon. If this instructor was an idiot, I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way of a good grade on the test.
The other student seemed to think this was a moral failing on my part, this refusal to stand up for what somebody else thought was right and just. My opinion of him was also not so good, but in a different way.
As I said, this memory keeps coming up. It’s not a mystery. I was 19 and figuring stuff out. I admired principled stands; I had good examples to follow and history was always right there, ready to give me some more.
But I knew this wasn’t a principled stand. It was a dumb one. There’s a difference.
And so every week, now, I stare at a blank page and wonder. A lot is going on in the world outside our little communities. I’m very much aware of all of it. Some of it could be very dangerous, I suspect. I have some opinions.
I also write for small newspapers, the ones people read for local news and high school sports, and whatever reason they read my column.
Part of the problem is I have nothing new to add. Another part is that this is not what I do, not normally. Sometimes, but rarely, something in the national or world news will catch my eye and I’ll do some commentary, but that’s usually just a curiosity anyway. It’s not a ban on refugees or a dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.
Most of the problem, though, is that I see absolutely no value on stating the obvious, or what should be the obvious. If it’s not, I’m not gonna change your mind anyway.
That said, some of this could be awfully serious, and needs taking a stand, and grabbing a mouthpiece if you’ve got one might be one way.
It’s just that I don’t know. I can’t read the history that’s happening right now. That’s not new; the first few days of any new administration is filled with grand gestures and dumb mistakes and other things that people do when they’re new on the job.
Did shutting down airports and making a lot of people miserable do any good? I have no idea. I think it possibly did, a greater good, a huge awareness. Maybe not. Maybe it just makes the protestors feel the same way that guy in my class, so long ago, wanted to feel. Noble. Justified. Martyred. Special.
I don’t really believe this. But I can’t come to a conclusion yet on a lot of what’s happening, in terms of alarm, and sounding alarms, and mouthpieces.
It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. I just haven’t figured out what it’s worth yet.