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Opinion: Use it, express it | Robert Bolton

Opinionated Robert Bolton has decided that we all need to speak up a little bit more and start a few debates.

I reflect on the importance of opinions and the fear for being judged for those opinions

     I have been given supportive and impressive looks when I’ve said I’ve written two articles for the UCC Express. During the summer however, my brother had a rather different reaction, asking me why people write about such boring topics like politics and current affairs.

     “Because they like to write. Plus, it’s good for the CV,” I reply.

    I open one edition of the newspaper, showing him an article I had written. He reads it, complementing my use of “complicated” language. I tell him I have many more opinion articles prepared to be submitted to the newspaper. I want to use my second year of college well, not waste it pretending I’m going to do something worthwhile when what I really do is relax in bed listening all things 80s and posh nosh classical violins. No, this year I want to achieve much more. I want to fully express my personality, not indulge in the celibacy of procrastination. This year I want to write, perhaps make a movie and become finance officer of a society I set up with friends.

But as I show my brother the other article, which takes up a full page of the newspaper, I am reminded of the fear and isolation of having an opinion and a viewpoint that does not agree or conform to viewpoints of the status quo. (The article I wrote outlined the many reasons as to why people become addicted to drugs.) As a second year social science student, learning about how society works and why society is the way it is, is what I do. As a result I am also learning many things that help me form my own opinions. I know where to look for evidence and I know how to write better.

As I think back a few months ago when I wrote that page long article on addiction, the fear of rejection and overwhelming disapproval floods my mind. Having non-conformist opinions can be difficult, especially since humans are wired to conform and do things the way everyone else does. But writing those opinions in a student newspaper is even more daunting, terrifying in fact. But the article was published. For me, I began to sweat as I saw my name appear along with the headline “In the whirlpool of addiction”. What are people going to say?

If there’s one thing I’ve come to realise over the past year in UCC, it’s that opinions have changed the world. Whether it’s through books, magazines, newspapers, films and documentaries, opinions encourage debate and debate creates new ideas and answers to society’s problems. There are people in the world who’s opinions are so controversial they will cause your blood to boil, but we must remember that it is only through the spreading of ideas can we create a better society.

Now, about to start second year, I am promising myself to become a Rottweiler of all things social science and politics. The world does not change by the populist opinions of many; it changes because of the commitment of a small number of people. Indeed, as Margaret Meade said, it is the only thing that has. So I am coming out of the confines of the drab lecture theatre and the solitude of the library. And I urge everyone else to do the same.

     UCC is not a nursery school and I am not an undergraduate infant who sits at lectures pretending to be interested. I am openly interested in my subject, with a passion. Nobody should be put down for that, no matter how much you love Karl Marx.

I encourage all students to act on their interests and pursue their opinions. Be open with them. This is a democratic society. Criticism of society, culture and the pursuit of freethinking do not have to be confined to the imprisonment of the classroom, lecture theatre or library. Liberate your nerdy passions from your essays and exams.

Let the world know you love Emily Dickinson. Quote her poetry at every opportunity. If you’re a rugby player and passionate, act like you are passionate. Become a bulldog, don’t take notice of people who say your sport is too rough. If you’re obsessed with quantum physics, write an article for the college newspaper about Steven Hawking. Please profess your love for your subjects and interests. Don’t let anyone get in the way of that, because what we need in uncertain times like these is hot and steamy intellectualism that can only be turned on by rigorous debate, a carefree attitude of going to the library, feeling proud of it and making sure you give your lecturer’s a grilling if you don’t agree with what they say.

Though I don’t believe in being deliberately offensive or oppressive to others when expressing opinions, I believe that suppressing an opinion from fear of rejection from the wider society is a sin of libertarianism, free thought and the idea of progression. It’s easy for the status-quo to engage in emotional blackmail, making you feel bad for having a non-conformist opinion. But do not accept this dogma. You must respond yourself to society. You must take a step back and think for yourself. Only through this thinking can society progress.

College really is going to be different this year. I’ve so far seven opinion articles prepared that I want to submit to this newspaper. Three of them are wild in their aspirations. I’ve a lot of things to say. But at least I am fulfilling my promise. I love all things social science, so I’m acting on it. Fears of rejection and disapproval must be met with my realisation that society does not progress until someone has something new to offer. But I must also keep in mind that people have not only a right but an obligation to debate with opinions.

So this year, I’m proudly going to fill my shelves with a dozen more books, publish maverick articles along with a new blogging website. If you’re like me, don’t be afraid to do the same.