On keeping ideas in the 'rough draft stage'
May 6, 2021
Each year the Chilkat Valley News awards a $1,000 scholarship for an essay writing contest for graduating seniors. Students typically have less than two hours to respond to a prompt. I asked the students to respond to two quotes relevant to our times as more and more Americans syphon themselves off into their own news and information silos, using different sets of facts to construct their reality. From our safe, comfortable bubbles we too often tune into news that is quick to confirm our pre-established beliefs and prejudices, often about those villains on the other side. This year I chose Lydia Andriesen’s essay. It was a timely, succinct and thoughtful response to the issue, and is printed below.
-Kyle Clayton, editor
The quotes that the five participating seniors responded to are as follows:
“If you’re a ‘solid’ fellow and an ‘up-and-coming’ fellow you find yourself at dinner parties agreeing with people who go on about a lot of half-baked nonsense and you shake your head very wisely and people see you shaking your head very wisely and they figure you’re a very wise guy… Pretty soon, you know, you’re just caught up in the damndest mess of crap.”
-Journalist I.F. Stone
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Essay by Lydia Andriesen
As a young child, I always looked up to the high schoolers and adults who seemed to have it all figured out. They spoke with such confidence and the way they carried themselves convinced me that anything they did or said was right and could be taken at face value. They could have been walking encyclopedias compared to all I knew. Because of this preconception, I always assumed that with age, came wisdom and a greater knowledge of the world. It seems, however, that the older I get, the more ignorant I get. Along with this awareness has come a fluid state of opinions as my stance on certain issues changes from year to year. In order to be a contributing member of society, we must be careful to not have the arrogance to assume our ignorance is anything but infinite. Yet, as certain information becomes known, we have the opportunity to make that infinity of unknowns slightly smaller and shift our mindset.
Now that I am one of those “walking encyclopedias,” I am acutely aware of how wrong my childish view was. I have been involved in many important conversations in which I try to contribute with intellectual points and, upon failing, accept what has been told to me. I always end up thinking, I must do more research on that. Later, I often find that my peers had as little information as I did. Though a conversation itself may be nonsensical, it can be thought-provoking and I try my best to keep my thoughts moving to improve my beliefs. Recently, I’ve learned the power of my words on people, namely underclassmen, who look up to me. I need to be careful what I say because I could hear it echoing through the halls in others’ voices with a slightly different tune before I could decide if I was right or not. It is extremely hard to change others’ opinions, and I try to keep mine in a rough draft stage. I have to first change and improve myself before I can have any authority to change others.
Conversations at the “dinner parties” of everyday life should not be filled with confirmation of things we know little about. This may make us feel good about our decisions, but it only inflates our hubris. It is exceptionally rare for one group to have everything right and another be completely wrong. Being part of such a one-sided majority is a sign of confirmation bias. Today, confirmation bias is spreading like wildfire around the country and the world. We even see it in our families. The internet has allowed us to access the information we want as fast as we can ask for it. This is an incredible and useful tool but, just like any saw in the wood shop, it is also a dangerous one if not used correctly. There is no generally accepted and objective truth for us to work with, so we have to treat our influences like earthquake triangulations. When an earthquake occurs, there are at least three seismographs used to pinpoint the location and depth of the tremor. Similarly, when an issue is posed, we have to find sources of varying backgrounds to find the truth and its consequences in our lives and others.’
Each of us has the monumental task of aligning ourselves with objectivity and truth. This seems nearly impossible, but we have to humble ourselves to realize that anything we believe could be wrong. We can be consoled in the fact that we are not alone in this vast universe of infinite mystery. Even if the facts in our minds aren’t right, our hearts and morals can be aligned to help others in the pursuit of truth and wisdom.