After Monday night’s presidential debate, I thought that I would have at least a few weeks off, at least until the next debate comes around, from unnecessary and ill-informed comments.
I was wrong.
Most of the conversations about politics I’ve been engaged in with other students and friends this week have gone something like this.
“I really like Trump,” they tell me.
“Oh yeah?” I reply. “What do you like about him?”
“I like his position on foreign policy.”
“What, specifically, do you like about his foreign policy position?”
“Well, I don’t really know, I just think he knows what he’s doing.”
Or the other person will say something like this:
“I hated the debate last night. Donald Trump and Hillary acted like children fighting over the last piece of candy.”
These discussions are necessary and valuable, especially in the university setting. Interpreting national and world events is part of growing up and, in my opinion, shows a great deal of maturity among the people involved in the discussion.
Talking is great, but only if something substantial is being said. Lots of us think that because we watched the debate on Monday night or put a cute picture of the screen with the candidates faces up on our snapchat story that we are now residential experts in politics with informed opinions that others will value.
The terrifying part about these interactions is that a great deal of us have absolutely no idea what we are talking about. Most of the time, we either regurgitate vague, general information that we’ve gathered from other equally uninformed sources or fall back on the old cop-out of “wow, this election is crazy and abnormal, let’s continue to point this fact out long after it has been established.” We do this in an effort to have our opinions heard, join in with the conversation and sound smart in front of our peers. But most of the time, we just offer incorrect and false information that offers no intrinsic value.
Have a look at this enlightening video filmed on a college campus like ours:
Penn State Students probably aren’t this clueless when it comes to understanding our nation’s history and political climate. But the point is that lots of people are. An NBC news article from 2009 recorded that 71% of Americans randomly chosen to take a relatively simple civic literacy test failed. Yet Americans and college students of all levels of political understanding continue to speak about politics as if they work as an analyst on Capitol Hill.
Of course, there are students on campus who are informed and do pay attention to the specifics of the election and overall political client. The political reporters on the staff of the Daily Collegian, political science majors, anyone who reads any newspaper even semi-regularly or has some above-average interest in politics —these are all people who will likely be able to offer an informed and valuable opinion.
It is important to remember that it is not a crime to be or feel uninformed. I often find myself asking seemingly ridiculous questions about governmental structure and policy when watching a debate or reading an article. But I also don’t offer many opinions on politics. It’s ok to not know. But you injure yourself, and your reputation, when you speak as if you do.
This goes for every conversation—from politics to religion to relationships. Every person has the inherent and constitutionally protected right to their own opinion and the freedom to speak it. But if you can’t be specific or original in your opinions and assertions, please don’t even bother opening your mouth. You’ll save the other person time and yourself from embarrassment.