On relationships that will work out ‘someday’

https://www.flickr.com/emster214/
https://www.flickr.com/emster214/

I don’t understand why the standard response for a friend who has become newly single is, “Oh, don’t worry, honey, you’ll find someone better someday. The right person will come into your life at the right time. In the mean time, just focus on yourself and learn to be happy!” Or why being happy with your partner is considered needy. Or why someone who is actively looking for a partner with some meaningful vigor is tagged desperate.

I understand that there are many people who are perfectly happy, or prefer, being single. If this is you, then great! However, I’m not writing this article for these types of people–I’m writing this for the types of people who genuinely like being in relationships, and like having a significant other, but can’t seem to genuinely express or pursue this desire without being labelled unhappy, unstable, or insecure.

I want to draw an analogy to career: there are large similarities between the two. Both have been shown to increase quality of life and happiness; however, the same way one doesn’t need the perfect job to be truly happy, one doesn’t need the perfect relationship to be truly happy (that is, you can build a good life with a person who is not necessarily your ideal match). And both can be pretty devastating if you have it, prefer to have it, and then lose it. 

If a friend recently lost a job, you probably wouldn’t tell her, “Don’t worry, honey, the right job will come into your life at the right time.” Such a response would be considered downright bizarreYou might encourage your friend to take a few days to let the shock settle, and manage her finances, but you’d probably agree that the first thing your friend needs to do would be to get right back on her feet and start looking.

And you probably wouldn’t call this friend desperate. Just because your friend is looking for work doesn’t mean she’d be willing to start flipping burgers at McDonald’s tomorrow.

And you probably wouldn’t say that she needs weeks or months or “half the time she spent in her old job” to be ready for a new one. In fact, you’d probably argue that the best way to move on from her last job would be to begin a new one.

So why do we make these sorts of assumptions when it comes to relationships? Perhaps, you might say, it’s because a career is different–you need a career the way you don’t need a relationship. You need money, but you don’t need love. And this may be true–yes, we don’t need close companionship; yet, studies have shown that stable relationships lead to increased happiness and increased health and life expectancy. So even if relationships aren’t vital, they can be pretty important.

Or you might say that someone who’s actively looking to find a partner hasn’t spent enough time on themselves–but if job hunting doesn’t erode a person’s career skills, why would dating? And there’s no guarantee that the right person will fall into our lives at the right time. It’s silly to assign love to the hands of fate when we wouldn’t for our career or our families or our hobbies. If a meaningful relationship is as hard to come by as a meaningful career, then it’s all the more reason to start looking.

I think it would make more sense to start pursuing relationships the way we pursue other goals–or, as Meg Jay said in her Ted Talk, “with as much intention as [we] do work”. There’s nothing about relationships that makes it inherently more mystical or unknowable than our other ambitions. We can get just as attached to our hobbies and our careers as we do to our relationships. And just like our other ambitions, we get better at relationships–better at looking, better at knowing what makes us happy, better at learning how to give and take from our partners–the more we work at it. We’d have more chances at more successful relationships if, like careers, we started by figuring out what we want (i.e., what sort of people we’re attracted to), and by creating opportunities instead of waiting for them (i.e., looking for these people in places they’re likely to be in–whether that’s at a hobby hangout, in friends’ circles, or online).

So, if a friend became newly single, I think it would make more sense to say, “That must be really hard. Why don’t you take a couple of weeks to yourself?” And once that time is up, encourage said friend to try looking again. If it doesn’t make sense to wait for a perfect career to fall into your lap, then it doesn’t make sense to wait for the perfect relationship either. It’s not being desperate–it’s being probabilistic. And you can’t mark ‘someday’ in your calendar.

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Don’t give into your parents’ permission wars.

There is an interesting dynamic surrounding permission in Indian culture, especially in a mother/daughter dynamic. I almost wrote “parent/child” dynamic, but seeing as I just got into an argument with my mom about how “boys have different standards” (paraphrasing her words), I have to digress and say, no, this is mostly reserved for mother/daughter, or parent/daughter relationships at best. 

If you’re like me, and you’ve grown up with a fairly liberal Indian household, and you’ve seen swarms of other Indian (or South Asian) households where parents aren’t as liberal, where the standards of speech or dress or behaviour are much more strict, you might feel inclined to say, “Gee, my parents are pretty awesome.” I (try to) do this frequently. I appreciate everything my parents have given me, I am grateful that my parents didn’t kick me out of the house when they found out about my ex-boyfriend, and I am grateful even now that they still let me traipse around my neighbourhood in skirts and short dresses. My parents are pretty great.

However, if you’re a single woman like me, at some point, you might ask your parents for permission (or better yet, tell your parents you’re doing something) and your parents might say No, you can’t do that. And you might get into a fight with them and they might relent, and next week the same thing might happen again, and this time, you might be inclined to say, “Well, they let me do [x] last week, so I guess it’s okay if they don’t let me do [y] this week.”

If this is what you’re saying to yourself: don’t.

Let me tell you a story: today, I got into (yet another) fight with my mom about how she restricts a lot of my freedoms. My mom then brought up a point that my aunt had apparently told her. According to my aunt, my cousin (my aunt’s daughter) and some of her friends had seen me walking around my university campus in a really short skirt. Apparently this skirt had been so short that they had caught a glimpse of my underwear (oops). My cousin’s friends turned to my cousin and asked, “How does her mom let her walk around campus like this?” My cousin later relayed this information to my aunt, and thus began the gossip.

When I heard this story, I was a) mortified that my underwear had been showing and b) demanded when my cousin’s friends had seen me around campus, since I don’t normally hang out with them. My mom mentioned something about how it happened during my time as an Orientation Week leader. (Cue dawn of understanding! It was a really short skirt, but I had been wearing black shorts underneath! Success! Pre-frontal Cortex 1, Embarrassment 0).

Nevertheless, this was where the guilt was about to set in–yes, I was about to concede that my mom has given me ample freedom, and perhaps the freedom she has given me is enough. After all, she lets me go out, she lets me dress how I want (mostly), she lets me date (with some bickering here and there)… I don’t really need much more. Do I?

This might sound like a reasonable line of argument until you stop and ask, where is this authoritarian assumption coming from? My cousin’s friends had said “How does [her] mom let her walk around like this?” at a time when I wasn’t even living at home, when I was living on campus by myself. It would have been more reasonable if my cousin’s friend had said “I can’t believe [she] dresses like this.” I was 21 years old. Let that sink in: I was 21 and my cousin’s friend was asking why my mom “allowed” me to dress how I want.

And you see, that’s the flag I want to raise: when do I get to make my own choice?

I tried to hypothetically follow my life down the line, and ask when this would change. There’s not much difference between a 21-year-old single woman and a 25-year-old single woman, or a 28-year-old single woman. Would everyone assume that it was my mother’s responsibility to police my choices for the entirety of my single life? And then what? Would this disciplining later transfer to my husband? When I’m 30 and married, would someone say, “How could her husband allow her to dress like this?”

Even if you believe that woman are extensions of their mothers’ will until they’re married, and extensions of their husband’s will once they are, I think it’s important to ask ourselves one thing very carefully: who gets the most freedom? Who can wear the most scandalous piece of clothing and have others say to them, “I can’t believe this person chose to dress like that.”

The answer doesn’t really matter. The point is that there are people who are allowed such freedoms while I am not. And why? Because I was born a woman? Because I’m Indian?

That’s why my lack of freedom is so infuriating; that’s why it doesn’t make sense to placate your parents with yours.

It’s one thing to say, “I’m not going to do [x] because it won’t make my mother happy,” because in that case, you are acknowledging that your biggest peace of mind will arise from your loved ones’ peace of mind. However, it is completely different to say, “I’m not going to do [x] because my mother won’t let me.” Being born a woman, or Indian, or whatever situation you’re born into does not make you less worthy to the world and its opportunities. It’s this kind of thinking that beats us down and stops us from rising to our full potential. If you are taking no for an answer, stop to ask yourself why–and what types of people might not have to. Hint: it’s not people “whose mothers let them do whatever they want.” Embrace the world for what it is, and realize how fortunate you are to be born into a country where you have the freedom to make your own choices.  And no matter how much you love them, don’t let your family hold you back.

How I Wish an Atheist had Discussed “Purpose Without Religion” With Me

I have recently begun to adopt a form of deism (or agnosticism, or atheism, depending on the flavour of the day) as a primary worldview, but it took a long time for me to actually be comfortable doing that. For most of my youth and childhood, I was strongly, devoutly religious.

“Of course there is a God,” I’d argue, “Of course there is.” Philosophical arguments aside, I just didn’t understand how life could make any sense without God. I’d have countless arguments and discussions with atheist friends, and this was always something for which I never received a sufficient answer. At one point, I remember telling an atheist friend that I “didn’t want to live in a universe without God”. You see, my life was deeply rooted in purpose. In a thought experiment similar to Pascal’s Wager, I reasoned that if there was a God, then there was a purpose to my life, and it is my duty to fulfill that purpose, and to be happy with God in the “afterlife”. If there is no God, then, well, life had no meaning anyway—so, I reasoned that living as though there was a God would probably be the smarter thing to do, since it would give me the most happiness. Living as though there is a God would give me Purpose.

I feel like this is a common point that any theist/atheist debate or conversation will run into, especially if such a conversation is deeply personal rather than logical. Atheist/theist debates can take on a number of themesphilosophical, spiritual, “I-can’t-explain-it-but-I-just-feel-it”, and so on. But even if we can scientifically argue away creation myths and show logical flaws with the feel-y approach, I think the Purpose issue is one that people, both theists and atheists alike, can get legitimately hung up over for two reasons:

1. Many devout theists have a strong need to align their life with a “greater good”.

2. Many atheists argue against the purpose question by claiming that life doesn’t have a purpose, doesn’t make sense to have a purpose, or that it’s an invalid question to ask.

I hope the dichotomy between #1 and #2 is clear, and moreover, I hope it is clear why #2 is an insufficient answer to #1. I want to draw an analogy: suppose a friend is going to university, and asks you, “What is the purpose of a university education?” Well, of course, that is a silly question, too–university education has no inherent purpose; it is just a thing that exists, and what you do with it is up to you. However, if you tried to convey to such a friend why university education doesn’t have a purpose and shouldn’t have a purpose, perhaps you can understand why your friend might be a bit hesitant to make the jump to actually enrolling and getting a degree (especially if said friend is paying $80-$100k for a university education). Now, try to extrapolate that to when you ask someone to completely re-write their emotional and intellectual basis for life.

Furthermore, it is worthwhile to note that if someone asks me for the purpose of a “university education”, I probably won’t answer with, “There is none”. I’ll probably answer with something akin to, “you’ll get a job, you’ll get a better educational background, you’ll be in an environment that will enrich your critical thinking faculties, you’ll get to make friends and go to parties…”. None of these are The Purpose of a uni education per-se, but they’re pretty good results of it.

In the same vein, I think that when an atheist is engaging with a theist, or when potential ex-theists are trying to determine for themselves how to deal with the lack of purpose in a non-religious life, I believe it’s more reasonable to treat and address the question as What sorts of purpose can I engage with if there isn’t a God?”

I want to divide the next half of this post into two parts: the first, in the type of purpose that I found, and the second, why we can communicate these purposes as legitimate means in which potential ex-theists can enrich their lives.

Abandoning my Religious Mindset

I had, of course, heard the logical or philosophical arguments for atheism for as long as I was curious about religions and religious ideas. However, the reason I slowly, and over the course of a year, switched over to deism* had nothing to do with philosophical arguments. I was not logically, critically, or rationally convinced that there is no God (though I understood that ‘proving’ an absence was somewhat silly). Rather, there were a few things about religion that caused me to question it, and eventually, abandon a religious mindset.

1. I started realizing that religiosity wasn’t making me happy. I wasn’t scared of hell, but I was scared of the fact that I was living my life feeling like a Bad Person. Moreover, I found that no matter how much I tried to do “right”, “good”, or “ritualistic” things, it wasn’t making me happy. Thus, I needed to find other ways of being happy that wasn’t about religion.

2. I started to realize that the only thing more important than God were my loved ones.

3. This led me to realize that people are important to me.

4. I thus made it my purpose to help other people.

I began to find a way to construct a meaningful existence in which having a God was not central to my life. However, it was still important to me to align my life with my beliefs, and I knew that even when I believed in “God”, it was because I believed that religious piety would be the only way to truly bring peace and happiness to a person’s life (or in more “spiritual” terms, our existence).

I also believe that this is an idea a lot of devoutly religious people can relate to.

Focus on the People, Not the God

I want to be clear that helping others is not The Atheistic Purpose. By no means am I saying that atheists (or anybody) are required to help people, or that atheists can’t have other purposes in life. However, I think it’s a valuable purpose, and moreover, I think it’s a purpose that can be easily transferable to a potential ex-theist, for a number of reasons.

First, helping other people is a universal ideal among most people. It’s easy to relate to, and there is usually little explanation required about why it is good to help people.

Second,this is essentially what most religions promise—most religions promise that submitting unto the will of God will lead to a better quality of life (or, at least, a better afterlife). The difference, of course, is that focusing intellectual and economic efforts to help people is much more effective than prayer.

Third, helping people is good for all of us–and by this, I mean, if someone asks you “why does it make sense to help people”, you can say that humans, as a species, are a) social creatures, and b) have self-preservation instincts, like all other creatures. Thus, it benefits us to benefit our species. Moreover, helping people just makes us feel good.

Finally, this is a purpose that is suitable for a wide range of people—there are many ways one can actually make it a focus to help others. We can, for instance, participate in medical research, champion fights for social justice and human rights, aid environmental efforts or economic development, work with charities, and much more. There are entire movements that are devoted to this, or organizations such as GiveWell that aim to strategically determine which causes are most effective at their efforts.

***

It’s important to understand that the question of “purpose” is at the hearts of many religious people who cannot comprehend how atheism can be meaningful. More often than not, it’s a very self-selective question. People who do not worry about the purpose of life usually do not need to be convinced to be non-religious. People who don’t need a God, or a specific sense of purpose, can usually make the switch to atheism rather easily.

However, unlike the popular atheist viewpoint, I do not believe that the question of purpose is irrelevant to existence. I also do not believe that that people want to align their life to something greater than themselves are displaying a weakness of mind; rather, I think it’s simply a difference in mindset or personality. It’s similar to how some people require no itinerary or intention in their travels, while others like being tourists knowing what they’re going to do, and where they’re going to visit, and why they’re going there. The fact that we can choose the what and where and why is, of course, the most liberating aspect about atheismbut when discussing this with potential ex-theists, I think it needs to be made more clear that atheism need not, and indeed, is not, incompatible with aligning one’s life to a greater purpose.


 

* I still hesitate to fully brand myself as an atheist, for reasons not pertinent to this post

Dear aunties, who believe that obedient daughters are the best daughters

I’m sure your daughters are kind, smart, wonderful girls. I’m sure you’re imagining their weddings to wonderful Indian boys, raising wonderful Indian children, in wonderful Indian tradition. I’m sure you’re imagining that in two to five years, your daughters will finish their degrees—biology, psychology, speech pathology, engineering—and go on to work in places where they make upper-middle-class salaries. I’m sure they’ll live in upper-middle-class homes, take vacations every six months, and call you every time they make a major life decision. I’m sure they’ll be outgoing around their female cousins, modest around their uncles, and respectful to their elders.

And I’m sure that in fifteen to twenty years, they will also guilt, scare, and threaten the disobedience out of their daughters.

You see, what you are not imagining is this: you’re not imagining that your daughters may see more in the world than just her parents and her relatives. You’re not imagining that some day, your daughter might want to champion a fight—against poverty, cancer, climate change, global injustice, politics—or that she might want to start her own business, write her own book, direct her own movie.

I’m sure you have no trouble imagining your sons doing this. I’m sure you can imagine that your son might be that new business co-founder, that your sonmight be Ph.D. who’s rallying the government to get more funding for anti-cancer therapeutics, that your son might be the Senator razing his bridges to the ground in an effort to preserve his integrity.

But your daughters?

You’re not imagining the number of times people will tell her no, you can’t do that, you’re too young, too foolish, too inexperienced. You’re not imagining that people—many of whom will be her elders, her mentors, her bosses—will attempt to talk her out of ideas before they’re even formed. You’re not imagining that they’ll use logical arguments, illogical arguments, emotional arguments, sarcasm, guilt, fear, ridicule, to tell her that she can’t do it.

You’re not imagining the number of times that people will tell her she’s a woman.

You see, every time you ask us to be obedient, you ask us to doubt ourselves—you ask us to believe that our parents know the outcomes of our decisions better than we will, that our elders can make better choices than we can. Every time we ask for permission, we are reminded that we are not old enough, experienced enough, knowledgeable enough to make a decision for ourselves.

When you’re asking us to be obedient, you’re not asking us to make smart decisions. You’re asking us to follow the decisions that you made.

And how can we ever be a leader if we just follow what is asked of us?

Dear aunties: we’re sorry that we can’t be the best daughters.

But, believe us—we will be damn good women.

flickr.com/photos/vinothchandar/flickr.com/photos/vinothchandar/

When your mind argues for a side

I was reading through the Center for Applied Rationality’s rationality checklist the other day, and the section under “flagging beliefs for further examination” caught my eye. I felt like I did (a)—actively noticing something that doesn’t fit with my prior beliefs—and (b)—asking for additional explanation or examples in the event of unclear information—on a pretty regular basis already. (One of the benefits of being in an undergraduate degree where the material isn’t your forte is that you really learn how to question your assumptions and foundations.) However, (c) particularly stood out to me.

c. I notice when my mind is arguing for a side (instead of evaluating which side to choose), and flag this as an error mode. (Recent example from Anna: Noticed myself explaining to myself why outsourcing my clothes shopping does make sense, rather than evaluating whether to do it.)

Hey, I thought, I totally don’t do this. In fact, for the last year or so, I had been pushing myself to defend most of my opinions, because I felt like I flip-flopped on a stance too much, and wanted to put more emphasis on holding onto one. And while learning how to defend a point with charisma and confidence is important as well, that isn’t necessarily incompatible with evaluating two sides of an argument with an open mind.

I had been mulling over this technique for a few days when a friend posted about World Vision’s latest public debacle: recently, World Vision changed its hiring policy to allow for the employment of anyone who was legally married, including those who were in same-sex marriages. Naturally, there was significant backlash from many evangelical Christians, many of whom decided to cancel their child sponsorships as a result of the controversial decision. Jamie Wright, who wrote the article my friend initially linked to, condemned this sponsorship termination crusade as the very worst of Christian humanitarianism.

When did impoverished children become products to be boycotted and replaced with the click of a mouse? (…) I’m just gonna throw this out there, but perhaps our Christian priorities are a little bit fucked up when we decide that a humanitarian-aid worker’s private life is more important than the actual survival of humans they are aiding.

I was nodding along fervently with this article, completely impressed with the insight and the poignancy of Wright’s words, and despising the evangelical Christian community who would dare do this. (Plus, I thought a little smugly, this is a Christian humanitarian organization that’s being progressive! What a huge step for gay marriage! Go World Vision!)

Fast forward to the end of the article where, oops, it turns out that World Vision was under such intense criticism that they actually reversed the decision to hire married, gay Christians.

Um, what?

Yeah. But here’s what Wright said about the issue:

So, if you need to switch “Evangelical” for “Progressive” in my blog post, go ahead. The premise is the same.

I froze.

You see, when it was the Evangenlical Christian side that was under attack, of course the criticism made sense: why wouldn’t you support an organization that was involved in so much humanitarian work and aid, solely because on its stance on same-sex marriage? But what about when the coin falls on the wrong side? Should I support an organization that actively discriminates against same-sex couples, even if the organization is doing so much other good?

My immediate knee-jerk response was to say, “Well, this is why I don’t support World Vision anyway…” There are plenty of other child-aid organizations, such as Free the Children, that are much more effective, much less religious, and much more human-rights based. But this problem stayed with me because it was an interesting case of actively checking my assumptions. My mind was actively arguing against World Vision, and against Evangelical Christians—but, as I tried to tell myself, this was an error mode. Were my arguments rational or were they just biased?

Was this just a case of the trolley problem? Suppose that I did sponsor a child through World Vision—what would be the better thing to do? Is it worse to support an organization that actively perpetuates discrimination of same-sex couples, or worse to withdraw support for needy children? If I chose to stick with child sponsorship, then what if the discrimination went beyond just gay marriage? What if it was women, or racial discrimination, or any other type of prejudice supported by a religious agenda? If it’s not okay for me to overlook any of these discriminatory behaviours, then why should I make an exception for LGBT discrimination?

However, if I chose to withdraw sponsorship, then how can I justifiably condemn the Evangelical Christians who did the same?

Perhaps the answer is in where your priorities lie. I want to vouch support for case (a)—staying with child sponsorships, like Wright argued for—but suppose I was no longer just a 22-year-old university student. If I was a large-scale LGBT rights activist or lobbyist, I would find it more difficult to support such an organization publicly. I would no doubt come under large scrutiny, especially when there are other charities that have the same root cause, but with less discrimination against their employees. (That’s also my answer: 22-year-old-uni-student-me would stick with child sponsorships … but I would definitely start investigating other organizations as well.)

With religion, the priorities are more complex. I would like to hope that Evangelical Christians place a higher priority on following Jesus’ teachings to help others first rather than trying to battle gay sinners—and this, I think, is what Wright was arguing for, too.

I would not have had this level of analysis without raising my knee-jerk reactions to conscious attention. Flagging a strong emotional or opinionated response for further introspection is a good learning experience, even if your final viewpoints are still the same. Even if I don’t agree with the viewpoint that Evangelical Christians have towards same-sex marriage, I can appreciate the struggle with which they faced the World Vision issue—and therefore, I can greater appreciate those who decided to stay with World Vision when this decision was initially made.

Ultimately, pausing to consider why my mind was arguing for a side, and determining whether that’s actually the best decision gave choice back to me. The mind is just another organ, like the limbs or the heart; and just like the limbs or the heart, it has its own set of weaknesses. It might be impossible to destroy every trace of the self-confirmation bias—but learning to notice it is a good start.

Why everyone needs a little “crazy”

I went skydiving today for the first time. A group of nine other friends and I drove out to a farm that was about two hours away from campus. When we were ready to make the jump, an instructor strapped me up in a harness, clipped it safely to his own, and took me up. As my instructor and I were sitting in the plane, waiting to get to our final altitude of 10,000 feet, something caught my eye: it was a piece of red tape, stuck right next to the door of the plane, and on it, someone had hastily scrawled, “What is wrong with these people?

There we are, with our parachutes deployed! I’m the one in yellow. The blue one belongs to my friend, Dave.

Jumping out of planes probably isn’t something most people do on a regular basis. Did I think I was crazy for doing it? A little. (I now refer to the group of friends that I went with as my “crazy friends”.) But I also knew it was going to be completely different and new from my usual routine. And a lot of times, that is an excellent reason to try something new.

Perhaps falling from large heights isn’t your cup of tea; that’s okay. However, I firmly believe that everyone needs to let loose their “crazy” once in a while. Do something unique, unexpected, or ridiculous. Go scuba diving. Sing karaoke really loudly at a bar. Join that student team you’ve always told yourself you wouldn’t have time for, and then work your butt off actually committing to it.

How you define your crazy is up to you. But a lot of times, we stuck in a rut of the tried-and-true. And that’s when we stagnate. As American Businessman Farrah Gray once said, “comfort is the enemy of achievement”. It’s only when we’re pushing our limits and our boundaries that we really grow. Now, am I saying that skydiving has enriched my life, and has allowed me to become a better person? No, not necessarily (though I do plan on getting my licence one day). But pushing my boundaries only comes with practice. If I continually tell myself that I’m not going to do something because it’s too different, too scary, too crazy, then I’ll never really learn how to take risks, or how to go beyond my limits.

(There are also a ton of other benefits of trying something new–for instance, it’s an excellent way to gain some perspective. When I was chatting with my skydiving instructor today, I realized he is doing something he truly enjoys as a career. How cool would it be to share the thrill of your passion with newcomers? That’s something I hope I can work towards as well, with my future profession.)

So, this is my new goal: the next time I tell myself that something is “too crazy”, I’ll stop for a second and reconsider. Is it really? And if so, is that such a bad thing? As I learned from the plane, the hardest part is usually the jump.

Yes, I am good enough.

I’ve come to a conclusion that I matter.

I had this revelation when I was sitting at an Engineering Society meeting yesterday. The society was editing the draft of a speech that they wanted to present to the university-wide students’ union. For the most part, the speech was well-written. However, there was one sentence that caught my eye–a phrase which essentially speculated that other faculty-based student societies share the sentiments of EngSoc–and it was at this point that I raised my hand and suggested that the phrase be removed from the draft.

And it was at this point that I realized I had valid opinions.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to say that my opinion was “right” or “correct” or even “best”. I’m not here to bask in the glow that the rest of the society agreed with me, and hastened to make my proposed change. I don’t even really care that a respected student leader and friend was also sitting next to me and agreed with my change. None of these prompted me to raise my hand.

I raised my hand because I am allowed to have an opinion. I am allowed to use my voice and take a stand. And whether that opinion gets me judged as “incompetent”, “silly”, “clever”, or “profound” shouldn’t be what matters. What matters is that I am thinking for myself, and I am being honest about what I think.

This may seem like a straightforward concept, and granted, one that has probably been lectured on at length by countless philosophy and literature professors. However, I have seen, time and time again, this ideology getting flushed down the toilet in favour of groupthink. Or in favour of not looking stupid. Or to stop from hurting someone else’s feelings. And while diplomacy, competence, and cohesion of community are all noble ideals to carry, we also need to be very careful about not losing our voice. I think this is especially true on campuses, where social circles and social groups are inevitably tight knit, and your society leader, your classmate, and your roommate all happen to be your best friend.

I love my EngSoc. We're so tight knit. Photo © Nicole Jiang.I love my EngSoc. A lot of us are really good friends. Photo © Nicole Jiang.

I’ve struggled with having “valid opinions” myself. I’ve resented other people–who were less knowledged, less diplomatic, and less competent than me–for also being louder, more confident, and more forward with their opinions. But this isn’t their fault. It’s mine. We should never be afraid to speak up, or speak out, because we feel we don’t have enough experience. As students, we need to realize that it is our unique experiences that make our opinions valid. For instance, I am a fourth year, female engineering student, who has worked extensively with other faculties, and who prefers respectful criticism over brash speculation. That might not represent everyone else in the Engineering Society, but at least I am confident in the particular set of characteristics and ideals that I am representing.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be tactful, polite, or respectful when presenting an opinion. And others are certainly free to criticize my opinion, or disagree with it, or not even listen to it at all. All of these decisions have a place in the fluid spectrum of teamwork. However, without trusting ourselves and our experiences, and realizing that we have a place in the team–whether that’s a student society, or an intern in industry–we can never bring forth the change or the contributions we so desire. And in my case, the unflattering remark about the other societies might’ve remained, we probably would’ve had to deal with unnecessary bitching. So, speak up. You’re good enough too.