My grandfather was a man of many opinions—that’s what my grandma tells me. He paid me $100 to read the novel Atlas Shrugged so I could be well acquainted with his political views. He liked things done his way, so much so that he started his own business to make sure things were done right. He only gave gifts if they met his very high standards, and only bought my grandma jewelry once he could afford the best of it.
Whether people agreed with him or not, my grandpa wasn’t afraid to express what he thought. He never said an unkind word, but you always knew where he stood.
I spent my life watching this example, and yet somehow I’ve spent most of my life keeping my opinions to myself.
Somewhere in the years when appearing cool to your friends at school made up the realm of your entire life, I found myself in the position so many of us have at one point or another. I didn’t like wearing peasant skirts until every girl at school had one. I didn’t like listening to Top 40 radio until I found out Disney soundtracks weren’t acceptable CDs to buy. Any opinion I had, any like or dislike I should have been entitled to, went through a validation process that needed to meet the standards of the entire world.
But then, you start growing up. I started to realize popular girls no longer existed, except for maybe the most followed ones on social media. I found where I fit, developed my own niches, and started figuring out what being myself feels like.
But there are so many aspects to figuring out what being yourself feels like outside of knowing what kind of music you’ll blast in your car speakers and what stores you’ll buy your clothes at.
There’s figuring out whether you believe in God, figuring out which religion feels true to you. There’s figuring out what kind of personalities attract you and figuring out which kind of personalities you attract. There’s figuring out if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, a Rachel or a Chandler. There’s figuring out whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or someone in between or someone who thinks everyone probably has it at least a little wrong. There’s figuring out how you’ll react to disagreements and figuring out what matters enough to you to keep you up all night in an adrenalized thrill.
And the best part of being human is that there’s something new you get to learn about yourself every single day.
So far I’ve learned that Carrie Underwood is usually who I’ll turn my car radio to, and realized I like my closet to be nothing but a mixture of blacks and greys. I have the image of a cross tattooed on my wrist to represent the God I choose to follow, and after a lifetime of calling myself an introvert, I found out that being around people I love actually gives me an energy I don’t find alone in my apartment. I formed political views that have shaped my entire thought process about the world and the people around me.
But despite the depth in which I was coming to know myself, I held the opinion through this past year that nobody else needed to know my opinions. I had those friends on Facebook who shared so much about their political beliefs that more people blocked them than not. I thought my religion should stay a personal decision that didn’t need sharing in case it offended someone who believed differently. Until 2016, I felt like I was learning too much and was far too young to give my opinion on anything that mattered.
And maybe I was.
But 2016 was an election year that changed everything, for myself and for so many others around me. People became divided by their presidential candidates in a heated political climate everyone on every side could call agonizing. Friendships, relationships, and families fell apart. Opinions were turned into angry memes, and after the long-held tradition of keeping your views off social media, finally everybody seemed to know where everybody stood.
2016 woke us up. It woke me up. It forced me to become more of myself, and it forced me to not be afraid to share what I felt.
But with so many of us freshly awoken, I fear that not all of us know what we’re doing. We’re getting into fights that hold no value, demeaning people through computer screens, and giving our opinions at the expense of respecting opposition. And it’s those things separate us from the ones who are confidently awake.
People who know the value of their beliefs aren’t so fragile as to feel the need to attack opposing ones—they are simply confident in their own. The discussions they have are to inform, not to degrade. The actions they take are to make a difference, not to make a show.
My grandpa will always be my example. Fiercely stubborn, but good to his core, you knew where he stood without him needing to yell or force or impose his views onto you.
I’m still learning about myself. I’m still learning about the world. But if there’s one thing I feel the most confident in, it’s that waking up is something we all need to do, no matter what age we are or where we’re at in life. Because it’s only once we’ve awoken that we can find the confidence to effectively fight for what we believe in with powerful grace.
If my only goal in 2017 is to let people know where I stand without ever having to raise my voice, I’ll consider it a success.
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