Edited by Aneesha Chandra
Having been in Ashoka for only one semester, it feels intimidating to discuss anything with anyone because it seems like everyone has an opinion about everything. There is no room for ambivalence. If you do not have an opinion, you are not an Ashokan. However, when we probe into this culture, we may find that everyone has an opinion but not everyone necessarily believes in their opinions. Why is this the culture at Ashoka? How do we learn in such a pressurising environment that indirectly promotes faux sincerity?
As college students, we believe that it is our responsibility to be well-versed in worldly affairs. Furthermore, as students of the top liberal arts university in India we feel obliged to have an opinion about everything — politics, culture and society, the environment, the economy, and the scientific world. One of the tenets of a liberal arts education is holistic critique based on an interdisciplinary approach to life. We discuss current affairs in class on a daily basis and are encouraged to offer our insights. We are told to be unique, but are pressured to join the herd and adopt commonly accepted opinions. The fear of social ostracisation is especially significant to a teen-adult who is trying to fit in while simultaneously discovering themself. This fear institutionalizes the practice of faux sincerity and renders having an opinion for the sake of it an acceptable habit.
Some of us are aware of our insincerity and yet we continue with the same behaviour because of the allure of power. Having an opinion, especially one that is held by the majority, gives us a sense of power over others. We feel important and included in a community. In this way, having an opinion gives us a sense of belonging. Since we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, we believe that we have the right to make deviants feel small, like they don’t belong anywhere. Losing sight of the real objective — learning and growing in college — happens mindlessly as we get sucked into the endless storm of power. We indirectly deny others the right to form their own opinions and get defensive when questioned about our “personal” opinions.
Furthermore, social media platforms provide us with the perfect opportunity to show our support by reposting relevant opinion posts without actually having to think about the content. For example, how many of us actually read and critiqued an entire thread on the events that took place on Republic Day in Delhi? How many of us felt pressured into putting up stories addressing the same? This is to say that everyone has a voice, but more often than not, we choose to ignore our genuineness and simply mimic the collective voice of our peers. Deliberating over current affairs becomes an inconvenience when there are easier ways to “participate”. One button is all that is required to make us feel powerful, valuable, cool, and less alone. It gives us a false sense of warmth which in turn motivates us to continue with the same conduct of faux sincerity.
In this way, having an “opinion” has been reduced to a trend instead of a way to make sense of the world. As a result, there is limited scope for creative thought and we are stuck on the same level with few prospects for growth. The lack of commitment to an opinion removes solemnity from the habit of making an opinion. Everything becomes a joke or ends up as snippy quotes on a meme page. We distance ourselves from reality and our true selves, and consequently we lose more than we gain.
What can we do to remedy the situation then?
Firstly, we need to acknowledge the culture of faux sincerity and sit with the discomfort this realisation may bring. We need to accept that faking an opinion is comparable to being indifferent. Secondly, we need to find the courage to be true to ourselves and express what we truly feel about things around us. We all have the potential to do so, all we need to do is respect ourselves and each other enough to speak our truth. Thirdly, we need to treat social media platforms for what they are — a medium for expressing ourselves. They are not gospel. Everyone has the right to their thoughts, however radical they may be. We have the right to, sensitively, agree and disagree with any opinion. Lastly, we should remember that it is okay to not have an opinion about everything. Being Ashokan does not mean having an opinion all the time. It means trying our best to be informed and responsible humans, and respecting our peers.