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viewpoint

Certainty is overrated… I think?

| Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about politics. “You know,” he said, “I’ve never really been able to pin you down. Where do you stand on the political spectrum?” I laughed to myself and kind of shrugged. “I’m not sure,” I finally responded.

Now, I’d like to think this isn’t simply due to ignorance. I spend a fair amount of time talking about politics and even more time listening to other people talk about their beliefs. I’d also hope this isn’t simply apathy. As much as I tend to focus on other things, I do care deeply about the way this country runs. I care about how we live our lives as Americans and indeed what that term means. Yet, for some reason, I’m still not entirely certain on my political views, and I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

Certainty is easy in politics. You can find people and groups that agree with you, people you like and respect. Especially in today’s world, one can without much effort avoid having a serious political discussion with someone who disagrees with them. On campus, we tend to engage with groups we agree with. In the real world, we not only spend time with like-minded people, but also increasingly tend to live around them as well. So, with easy affirmation as close as your Twitter feed or Facebook timeline, why be uncertain? I think it has to do with humility.

The other day, I was walking through the shelves of the library. I was looking for a quiet place to study, and after finding table after table full, I ended up sitting down for a few minutes between two shelves. Not quite wanting to start my homework, I picked up a random book and, for the next half hour, was reading through a semi-biographical account of a “footballer” from the ’50s or ’60s. Now, I don’t particularly care about the sport of soccer, but the passion and expertise demonstrated in this tiny little book amazed me. Then, I looked around at the two shelves on either side of me, then out at the rows upon rows of books on this single floor of a massive building. It’s rather humbling to realize our own size and finiteness. The authors of the books in our library lived and died decades and centuries before us, building deep expertise left in volumes and volumes of text — or perhaps just a few cardboard bound pages. Certainty requires us to believe that, somehow, we have all the right answers. That we, alone in the world and perhaps even alone in history, have finally figured it out.

Now, what does that mean for politics? Uncertainty allows us to listen — to recognize that we are all just a little bit smaller than we might think. It lets us look at the questions facing us without the comforting, yet limiting, embrace of our familiar ideologies. I don’t mean to say we give up on finding truth and real, useful solutions, and we most certainly should not stop caring. We must hold onto our passions and beliefs as they bring us to political life and drive us to continuously preserve and improve our country and world. What I do mean is simply that we should listen a bit more and dig into the messiness of the real world, unafraid of being proven wrong or changing our minds.

One cannot be perpetually unsure, it simply doesn’t work very well. But if there is a time in your life to let in a little uncertainty, especially when it comes to politics, it is now. So take a break from certainty for a little while. It might not be such a bad thing.

Griffin Cannon is a junior studying political science from South Burlington, Vermont. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together people from all across the ideological spectrum to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Monday nights in the McNeil room of LaFortune from 6-7 p.m. They can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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  • Dan

    Great piece, thanks for sharing!