In almost every English class I took, I was taught to never begin an opinion with the words “I think” or “I believe”. We already know its what you think, the teacher would scold, you’re the one saying it. Support your statement with facts because nobody cares what you think or believe, they care about what you can support and prove. I many times felt I was the only one who got that memo, because as I pursued my studies, more and more often would I sit through the unsupported ramblings of a hungover college student who felt ignorantly impassioned about the topic of the day, mindlessly ranting about what they felt, thought, or believed.
Thoughts, feelings, and beliefs alone are unsubstantiated. They are truth to you and you alone through the schemas and perceptions that your inherently flawed mind creates. Nobody cares what you think, feel, or believe because not all ideas are created equal. And your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs alone are at the bottom of the “weight of an argument totem pole”.
And this is where we get it wrong. We have elevated personal feelings to the status of near universal truth. Safe spaces on school campuses to protect students from “harmful” words (see Safe Spaces in K-12 Schools). No longer can we have a free exchange of ideas where two people communicate in healthy argument where two minds challenge each other intellectually. Instead, we find ourselves making ad hominem attacks, misrepresenting our opponent’s position with strawmen, and ultimately digressing into verbal assault from which respect is lost for both parties involved.
Our nature is to hold our beliefs and feelings close because we see them as a deep-rooted part of us. Beliefs are seemingly tied to our identity to the point at which we are willing to kill and die over them. This becomes all the more tragic when we neglect to educate ourselves on the supporting and opposing information for those beliefs. We resort to painting our opposition as a homophobe, a xenophobe, an islamophobe, a transphobe, a religious cult member, an anti-Semite, a baby-killer, an idiot, a racist, a sexist, or anything other than engaging in logical discussion.
The First Amendment was created to protect free thought and ideas. It is the cross-pollination of ideas that lead towards progress. Not the public figure claiming to be the spearhead of progress. Not the cyber warrior who trolls from his basement. But the healthy discourse between individuals of different minds. Without cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas, we become narrow-minded. It is narrow-minded to reject an idea because of your inability to thoughtfully argue against as opposed to rejecting an idea based on its logical merits.
Iron sharpens iron. Gold is refined by fire. All ideas should be challenged and none are above scrutiny. If someone makes an honest argument against illegal immigration, or against radical Islam, they may have some legitimate concerns that may flesh out compromise if addressed. If someone makes an argument about the police brutality, they may have some honest concerns with the checks and balances in place with local police forces. You do not have to be a police officer to have criticisms of police just as you do not need to be Black to have criticisms of Black crime. While it would give you a certain amount of perspective in your argument, there is no requirement for standing to have an informed opinion on an issue.
A criticism of an idea that you hold dear is just that: a challenge to an idea. It is not Hate Speech. It is not harmful to you. It is a criticism that deserves consideration, the amount of which is determined by its logical merit. If your belief is well founded, it has nothing to fear in the light of the public forum. If it is not, then you’ll undoubtedly find yourself in a worked up emotional state as you struggle to defend something you haven’t thought enough about.
All ideas are not created equal. Nobody cares about your feelings or beliefs alone. People who do are looking to exploit your emotion and harness it for their personal agenda. At the end of the day, through all the feelings and vitriol, your argument is only as golden as the weight it carries and the scrutiny it can withstand.