Based in san francisco, california, mia shaw writes, acts, and analyzes public policy. Her posts explore current events, cultural phenomena, and diverse opinions.

Making up your mind

Making up your mind

For an opinion columnist, I don’t have very strong opinions. Judging by the responses of virtually every English teacher I’ve had to my “too ambiguous” thesis statements, it’s safe to say that I am — and have pretty much always been — undecided about what I really think.

Now that we’re adults attending college at UC Berkeley, people expect us to have answers to questions. More specifically, they want to want to know whose side we’re planning to take: Are you thinking of going Greek at Cal? Have you registered Republican or Democrat? Not having a clear opinion can translate to “lacking in conviction,” and no one wants that. Some people seem to see issues the way that former President Bush did, with this mentality of being either with or against, allowing no room for anything in between.

At my high school graduation, one of my relatives approached me and asked, extremely seriously, whether or not I was going to be a responsible American and register Republican. He informed me that Berkeley’s liberal culture would surely brainwash me out of common sense if I didn’t. “Democrat or Republican?” he asked. “I have no idea,” I told him.

I love it when people tell me I need to make up my mind, because I never can.

Most people have the beliefs of those around them imposed upon them when they’re young, and when they grow up, they’re likely to stay true to many of the beliefs they were raised with. My upbringing, however, was less of a continuation and more of a conflict. I come from a fairly conservative family, but I was raised in the so-called liberal bubble of San Francisco. My family on my mother’s side is Portuguese, Chinese, and Catholic, and came here only 50 or so years back, whereas my father’s side of the family is white, Protestant, and came to America on the Mayflower centuries ago.

My distinct heritage — or rather, lack thereof — has been such an important influence on me that I live my entire life in extremes, repeatedly moving from right to left on topics before finally being forced into moderation. When people tell me that I have to weigh the pros and cons of something before making a decision on it, I have to tell them that that method doesn’t work too well for me, seeing as I’m able to debate myself for hours on end if need be and talk myself in or out of almost anything.

In spite of my indecisiveness, there’s one thing I can say with certainty: Simply choosing a side and running with it may not actually be the best way to go about things.

Things aren’t always as black-and-white or as right-and-wrong or as Dem-or-Rep as people make them out to be; modern American society is a perfect example of this. Just look at the debates people are having on controversial topics such as abortion, gun control, and capital punishment — it all depends on how you look at it. Abortion might be murder, but is it right for us to try telling a rape victim she must have her attacker’s child? Bearing arms may be our constitutional right, but if it wasn’t, would events like the Dark Knight Rises shooting still occur? It may be our responsibility to utilize capital punishment in the name of justice, but is murder the best way to deal with murder? I don’t know — I really don’t. Probably the scariest part about growing up is realizing that no one else knows, either, that we’re all just making educated guesses on how things ought to be.

But there’s an obvious difference between how things should be and how things are, and we must be careful when trying to cross that divide. Just because people shouldn’t do something doesn’t mean that they don’t, and we need to deal with our issues by working together rather than by creating divisions.

We think that things should be done a certain way, and that people trying to do things differently are wrong. But promoting bias by encouraging people to take sides only makes our initial problems worse; having strong opinions makes us more prone to discrimination.

The entire world is simply made up of different people trying to live life as best they know how; there isn’t right, there isn’t wrong — there simply is. The only way to get past bias and discrimination is to get past opinions and to get to the facts. Instead of focusing on what we think should or should not be, we must focus on things as they actually are.

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