Friday, January 29, 2010

The Youth of the Nation

The recent State of the Union Address given by President Obama has seemingly riled up quite a few fellow Americans. I'm not talking newsworthy marches or protests of grandeur, today's youth has chosen one of the current technological fads to discuss and make known their political opinions: facebook. The past few days I've spent quite a bit of time reading, contemplating, and outright laughing at the statuses of various facebook friends.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for sharing your views with the world. This is America, after all, where the freedom of speech is practiced relatively freely and without harm. Each and every individual has the right to tell their peers what they think about our government; which is something that should not only be taken advantage of but encouraged, because how else can we hold on to the "for the people, by the people" ideology?

The problem that my generation seems to be encountering, however, is what is means to "share one's political beliefs." The large majority of the of statuses I've viewed contain no political ideologies whatsoever. Young adults left and right are making highly judgemental blanket statements, not about the Presidential Address, but about which political association is better/smarter/kinder/etc. Do we, as passionate advocates, lack the knowledge to differentiate between a criticism and slur? Do we, as educated college students, suffer from the inability to form a simple argument? After reading the facebook statuses of outraged Republicans and satisfied Democrats alike, my faith in the youth of the nation has been significantly diminished.

The following are examples of some of the statuses I found related to the State of the Union Address. I am in no way trying to point out specific people and insult their beliefs, I am only showing examples of intelligent people who, had they proposed an actual criticism, could have made much more of an impact and encouraged a respectful reaction rather than a dismayed one.

You may have noticed that most of these statuses and posts are from people who disagree(d) with some aspect of the Presidential Address, President Obama, or some political issue. This makes total sense, as most people are more driven to make their feelings known when those feelings are of frustration or anger. I searched the pages of several friends I have that are incredibly liberal, and yet only two had statuses referring to the Presidential Address (and one was talking about turning it into a drinking game, so I've neglected to include that in the above sample). Again, this is logical. You don't watch a TV show you love and then post a status about how good it was. However, if you see a TV show that you have certain expectations for and then it disappoints you, your facebook friends are sure to know about it within the hour. (Remember what happened when the latest season of "Scrubs" started? There was an uproar!)

It's not the emotion associated with the posts that bothers me, as I was definitely one of those people verbally protesting Scrubs this past fall. It's the complete and utter lack of an informed criticism that makes my heart bleed for the future of this country.

Not one of these posts mentions why they think the Address was a joke, or what policies they disagree with, or how they think our government should be handling any given situation. Had I been able to find statuses of people stating that they loved the Address I would have the same complaint: why do you love it?

We are adults. Reading these posts reminded me of the answers my parents would sometimes give me when I asked questions as a young child.
"Mom, why can't I stay up later?"
"Because you need to go to bed now."
"But why?"
"Because I said so."
"But why?"
Even at the age of four and five these responses infuriated me. What gives a person the power and authority to use "because I said so" as an adequate response to anything? Now, had my mom told me, "You have to go to bed now because if you stay up later you won't get as much sleep, which will make you very tired. If you are tired tomorrow you won't be able to pay attention in Kindergarten or run as fast at recess. You may even fall asleep before the PBS Special on polar bears is finished," then I would have shut my little five year old smart-ass mouth and gone to bed.

If you're going to make a remark on politics of any sort, you must back up that remark with legitimate reasoning. By not making an informed criticism about a policy or political happening and simply generalizing and simplifying your thoughts, you unintentionally come off as someone who really doesn't know anything about politics at all. This was an issue during the 2008 presidential elections as well. Thousands upon thousands of students would proudly wear an Obama or McCain sticker or button and excitedly join in the shouting and cheering of a rally, but when asked what policies they favored the most, over half these seemingly passionate students couldn't give a concrete answer. "I like Obama because I'm a liberal" means nothing. "I like McCain because I don't want to raise taxes" means nothing. "I'm in the middle because they're both good options" means nothing. Why? Why is that such a difficult question to answer?

Think of it this way: Let's say some big golf tournament is going on. (I know absolutely nothing about golf, nor I know if there are even any big golf tournaments, but just go with it.) I really don't care for watching golf, even though the rest of the nation (remember, hypothetical situation) has called in sick to work and canceled their doctor's appointments to make sure they can watch this tournament, so I change my facebook status to, "Joelle Bender would rather watch grass grow than listen to the polite and mundane clapping of the golf tournament." I am entitled to my opinion, so what's the problem? It's incredibly easy to rip my statement to shreds, that's the problem. What reasoning do I have to make such a cold blanket statement towards not only the people in the tournament, but the golf organization as a whole, as well as the millions of people who wanted to watch the tournament? If people comment on that status and ridicule my opinion, then I deserve every bit of it. I offered no back up. I made no attempt to defend my opinion. Hell, I never even gave an opinion; I merely used one of the most generic sarcastic phrases of all time to hint at my distaste for golf. Now, had I said, "Joelle Bender isn't enjoying the golf tournament because it is moving very slowly and there is a considerable lack of excitement, suspense, adrenaline, and violence, all of which are key characteristics to my personal definition of an entertaining sport. Perhaps they should add more obstacles such as rabid zombie gophers and sporadic fire holes," then I would have posted an acceptable opinionated status. People could argue my points, offer their own, and I could respond to their points, and offer up more of my own. This is how arguments work.

It doesn't matter if you're Republican or Democratic, Conservative or Liberal, Communist or a supporter of the United States Marijuana Party. Using uninformed blanket statements when it comes to something as important as politics is unacceptable. As cliche as it sounds, we are the future of this country. We are the people that will be making important decisions that will affect millions of people. We are the people that have an opportunity to impact our world. How can we ever dream of accomplishing our goals if we can't peacefully work side by side? How can we ever dream of peacefully working side by side if we can't respect each other's beliefs? How can we ever dream of respecting each other's beliefs of we can't intelligently share our world views?

Your opinion matters. Express yourself.

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