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’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.