DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - February 2, 2007

The 411: Don't close your mind too soon

by Katharine O'Hara

I attended the Walk for Life anti-abortion rally last week in San Francisco. More than anything, the experience gave me insight into the fascinating world of partisan politics that defines American life as we know it. I found that many of the pro-choice protestors lining the street where the walk took place held signs reading "No War," "Destroy the Bush Regime," etc. These signs didn't make sense to me, seeing as though I was at an anti-abortion rally rather than a war protest, and I wondered why they assumed that those who were pro-life automatically supported the war in Iraq and the Bush administration.

At this point in my life, I am attempting to sort out my own religious, political and moral beliefs, and find that it is virtually impossible for each belief that I hold to perfectly - or even closely - match a specific political party or religious group. I find it incredibly frustrating that the minute one hears of my standing on a specific issue, they immediately jump to conclusions and place me in a specific group, decide I am of one political standing or another, and assume they know my opinions regarding other issues.

Ryan Hammill, a freshman at San Ramon Valley High School, said he finds the same thing. "A friend once told me never to identify myself as a liberal or conservative because once you do, people will make assumptions about you and never listen to what you say if they oppose your views," he said.

I think many people address politics in too much of an aggressive and hostile manner, fighting vehemently for their cause and refusing to see the other side. But if they truly look, they might find that issues cannot simply be divided into black and white arenas. There are far too many situations, circumstances and exceptions to make it that simple. One of the first lines in "The Great Gatsby" reads, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had"; I could not agree more.

We cannot simply assume that each individual is coming from the same place, as every face has a different story to tell and an equally valuable opinion to offer. Rather than automatically dismissing one's ideas and making assumptions based around nothing but that sole opinion, we all need to face controversial issues with an open mind and heart. We may never agree with the other side, but it is important to at least try to understand another opinion, and view the same issue from a different angle.

"When discussing any controversial subject it seems (many people) are looking for a petty fight instead of a real, intellectual discussion of prevalent issues facing the world," said Hannah Gustafson, an SRVHS junior. "What's frustrating is that many are unable to see both sides of an argument and refuse to recognize the merit of what others have to say. Although I consider myself liberal on many issues, I try to appreciate where many of my more conservative friends are coming from so we can rationally and intelligently debate our opinions."

It awes me how sure some are about their political views. As I am one who is completely unsure of what to make of the world I live in, I can't help but wonder if these kids simply listen to their parents and come to school with a ready-made pitch.

"People will throw out completely outrageous statements with no evidence to back them up. It's obvious that many of them have no idea what they're talking about but are just broadcasting the beliefs of their parents with only the most basic level of understanding of the issue," said Gustafson.

I, too, find that on a regular basis teens will make blanket statements about an issue - perhaps something they have picked up from a parent or friend - but underneath really don't know much about the issue at hand. It is refreshing to meet those who are actually passionate about controversy in the world, have a substantial knowledge of the issue at hand, and are willing to hear the opposing side - but it seems these people are few and far between.

However, in the opinion of Monte Vista High School junior Jibran Khan, "Teens are pretty apathetic when it comes to politics and don't really judge others on it. Monte Vista is pretty liberal and most people hate Bush, but conservatives don't necessarily feel out of place. I mean Danville is full of conservative adults and many kids rub off their parents."

I guess when it comes down to it, we are all just simple people trying to make our way in this bizarre and interesting existence; in the end, it is not our political standings or arguments won that will matter, but only our determination to find peace and love, and to make an impact in this truly awesome world.

The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a junior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at ohara5@comcast.net.

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