Freedom From What?

As a recovering journalist, I’ve often embraced the notion that if you’re not pissing people off, you’re probably not doing your job. Newspapers and news networks must ferret out uncomfortable truths, present them objectively, and allow our democratic processes to figure out solutions. In many cases, parties must compromise for this to happen. In rare cases, the wrongs are so absolute that no compromise is possible. Consider the case of Curtis Flowers, an African-American who has spent most of his adult life on death row for a crime that very few people believe he committed. It just so happens that one of them is district attorney Doug Evans. If he is ever exonerated for these murders, it will be because of a reporter who believes the system failed him.

I’m also convinced that students learn best when they’re pushed outside of their comfort zones. However, an increasing number of students around the country do not want their buttons pushed. Greg Lukianoff, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, has documented profoundly negative reactions on the part of students whose ideas get challenged.

I’m curious: what’s the explanation for students eschewing ideas that challenge their own? 

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21 Responses to Freedom From What?

  1. Katie Steil says:

    I think this only pertains to a certain group of people, and I think that this group of people is just afraid to be wrong. These people don’t have enough actual evidence to support themselves so when there is a counter-argument, they just get offended. One needs to be willing to argue their point if they are willing to put their argument out for public criticism. I’m offended that you would assume that all young people are overly sensitive.

  2. David Johnson says:

    I feel like many people aren’t exposed to many differing ideas, either because they do not care, or they just do not get exposed due to their living conditions. Because of this, many people just roll with the opinions that they are exposed to first, and swear by it, purely due to the fact that it’s what they are exposed to. Because of this, when someone proposes differing ideas or opinions, they do not know how to react. Like you said, they do not want their buttons pushed. When they are put in a positions where their buttons ARE pushed, they just get offended.

  3. Cameron Thomas says:

    Journalism is being limited by the many fallacies of the world. People don’t want to read bizarre articles because they supersede the common idealization; therefore, bizarre articles are very seldom released to the public. It has became more about ratings than the actual passion for writing. However, they fail to realize every fact starts as a bizarre opinion. Without showing out of the box articles to the public, they are doing no justice to the public or themselves.

  4. Geneva says:

    It difficult to change. If someone has been believing the same thing all their life then it is highly unlikely for them to want to change. After all, most people believe themselves to be right and to keep this disillusion they tend to assemble with like minded people while shying away from conflicting ideas. As students, we do not wont to step on toes or show ourselves in a controversial manner because controversy means we are disliked by someone. Students want to be liked by everyone especially if they plan on running for office. Overall, it could be more of an self-righteous and image problem.

  5. Linda Arnoldus says:

    I definitely agree that growth happens in uncomfortable situations, and that students should challenge themselves. I think the question is better directed at human nature. We as humans resist change and contradiction because that’s the easy and comfortable way. I think it depends on the person, too. Someone who wants to grow and learn will put themselves in a tricky situation (sign up for an AP class), whereas someone who is okay with staying the same won’t.

  6. Katelyn Booker says:

    People only believe in what they want to believe. Anything that goes against what they believe is wrong and they automatically get offended by it. Even when people are wrong and know it, they still refuse to listen to any other ideas that aren’t theirs. I believe this generation is very sensitive to certain things

  7. X says:

    Human nature is sticking to conventional beliefs and routines; change is often challenging, and as students, challenges are avoided. I agree that students learn the most when they are pushed out of their comfort zones. If they put themselves out there, not only do they learn more about themselves but also about the outside world. Students sometimes have so much to focus on that any kind of twist can throw off their routine and create more stress. Also, often times, students are afraid to go outside their comfort zones. What is out there? They aren’t sure how to respond or go about situations or tasks that they have never been exposed to before. Fear and the comfort of knowing keep students from taking on challenges.

  8. Taylor says:

    It seems to be a common trend in the generations today to harbor an unnecessary fear about “the clash”. Due to the society of gossip and Social-Media-degradation, students feel as if they are locked into a cloud of an impersonal persona when engaged in the classroom. This is primarily due to the incessant desire to not ripple the waters of controversy within the classroom (which can easily spread to the entirety of the school). I have seen this fear within a majority of my classmates; they are ensnared in this lingering fear of ridicule or the potentiality of being ostracized. This hesitance to express oneself lays the mortar for the wall of solitude and rejection when the time for teaching ideals pertaining to the teacher’s pressing of the student’s buttons comes. There will hopefully come a time when the ambient pressure of class culture doesn’t create a uniform mob of characterless zombies in our school systems, but, evidently, the time may not come until after our little brothers or sisters fill our high school shoes.

    • Alice says:

      I would argue that the information age and the day of Social Media doesn’t hinder the idea of free thought, but rather increases it. People enjoy sharing their opinions, and speaking them loudly. The problem at hand is not the ability to speak opinion, but have it challenged.

      This could be explained away as the human nature of cognitive dissonance and its resolution. In short, it states that we have a belief about the world, and if this belief does not match reality we tend to have a ‘dissonance’ within our minds. This dissonance can be resolved by either changing our reality or changing our beliefs. Our beliefs being challenged by others breaks this balance, and agitates us.

      This is a bit of an easy answer though, and much like your answer, it still begs the question of both the rise of these numbers and their concentrations in students specifically.

      In my opinion, this answer can be found not so much in the classroom specifically, but in the overarching cultural trends of today’s society. The people being students isn’t particularly important more so than the fact that younger people, specifically university students, are more likely to subscribe to more progressive views. The growth in this group is not because they are students in school, but because they are young. Them being young means that most of them are still of student age. Causation != Correlation

      This cultural change, while not inherently a liberal position, is found more commonly among progressive circles. The aforementioned change can be described as a pseudo-free environment.

      While founded in the right place, there is an increasingly popular notion in society that offensive speech cannot be free. While it is important to note that you do not in any way have to agree with the positions of anyone, the problem lies within the challenge of their right to say it, rather than what they say. Discussion is being hindered, not becoming more heated.

      Lukianoff discusses this in his novel as one of the “three great untruths”, the second of which captures this ideal quite well. It describes the idea of being upset as automatically a valid opinion. Often times, if someone is upset, offended, or otherwise, this feeling is treated as though it is valid or as though it has meaning behind it. It is a culture that seeks to protect people from offensive ideas, without realising that by doing this you are validating even the most hateful of ideas.

      What is not understood is that by trying to censor angry or hateful, or ignorant speech, you are giving it the power of the forbidden. It makes it seem as though we are scared of that idea spreading, we are giving it validity by blocking it from the eyes and ears of others, but I digress.

      Newer cultural ideas are the cause of this phenomenon. It is the idea that offensive ideas should be kept out, for the sake of protection. It is an idea that fails to realise that it is only serving to give hateful speech power, and strip the world of discussion. It is a culture which punishes the very foundation of itself: open idea. It discourages argument, debate, and disagreement in such a way that it is ensuring that another progressive moment will be near impossible.

      It does not see that the reason progressives have always managed to turn the world back around is due to the fact they were allowed to challenge what conservatives found offensive, but it is fundamentally hypocritical in the sense that it does not allow the same thing to be done to itself.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Referring the statement of Curtis Flowers, we have to look at the people who have been making decisions and have the type of authority to make judgement on the lives others. One prominent figure with the correct execution can easily create a false narrative of a character that resulted in his incarceration. As a citizen of this deemed “wonderful” country, we have to realize that our Founding Fathers build the country to the benefit of who they were “old, wealthy, white men.” And as of today, it really has not been proven otherwise. So when you ask the question of: what’s the explanation for students not wanting their buttons pushed? It’s simply because, the way of white is right. To put in a more plainer sense, the majority is always the model figure. Today, students are poised to have the right to be close-minded and that’s partly because of what they were taught growing up. Why would a student want to hear different opinions and be uncomfortable when they have been nothing but told they were right their entire life? They wouldn’t. Inherently, our generation of students is being molded to not poise constructive arguments and active conversations, but everyone is to composed of sensitivity and wanting to be convinced that their way is the “best way.”

  10. Elijah Dosda says:

    I’d actually argue that the desire for students to eschew data that doesn’t align with their beliefs is due to the evolving truths that they hold. Subconsciously our opinions change by slight minute details, leading to overall sweeping change with time, but in the instances that an opinion is challenged, then we are sent into a fighting mentality to assert dominance. By arguing, the only thing that usually comes as a result of it is both parties believing more fervently in their opinion and heated as a result of the clash.
    I believe that we are not capable of a sudden Great Change, only minimal change that adds on over time. If one were to suddenly change, it would be a case of cognitive dissonance since the old evidence that we based a majority of our opinions on is uprooted and replaced by a new one. It would make sense that the act of being stubborn or arguing might actually be protection of our consciousness from getting a whip-lash like experience, throwing us into a deep cognitive dissonance

  11. Gina says:

    Like you always say, “If you can’t convince people you’re right, you might as well be wrong.” This is a concept some people cannot accept; they’re uncomfortable with the idea of being wrong. I agree with you that being uncomfortable allows people to grow. However, students and young people are most definitely not the only ones that are easily offended when their ideas are challenged. For example, in politics, those who lean on the far left or far right wings rather than closer to the middle can often be close-minded and not open to different ideas.

  12. Sophie Tipton says:

    Most students have come to the conclusion of they just need to do what will get them by and passing. Laziness and procrastination take over. Then when something challenging and hard is put on them, they complain and see it as unjust. Most people just want to get by, by doing the bare minimum so that in the rest of their time, they can enjoy doing what they would prefer to. Some people; however, are not like this, but it is a quickly dying breed. I, like a challenge. I also know that when it becomes too much of an out of hand challenge, most hope is lost and it just becomes a depressing race to complete. This is why I believe that challenges are good for students, but they need to be kept controllable. Nobody should want to kill themselves from being pushed too hard, yet when they aren’t pushed too much they instead might do things that could kill themselves. There just needs to be an equal balance and an acceptance of a good number of people just don’t have it in them, which isn’t fully their fault. Some people want to but just can’t conform to what may be asked of them.

  13. Kailah says:

    We live in a world where the most supported idea/statement is considered the truth. To an extent, this is the very next alternative to rewinding time and placing surveillance where a crime was allegedly committed. Also, nowadays kids (having the least information) tend to get aggressive when presented to an opposing perspective. Not all of course. The wisest people I’ve known listen to opinions of others with acceptance and understanding that their opinions are just as “correct” as others. I try to put myself in the eyes of the seer to better understand why they think the way they do instead of shoving what I believe to be true down their throats. I’ve also learned that it is ok to be wrong when it comes to actual facts.

  14. Erin says:

    I don’t agree with you about students shying away from sensitive or challenging topics. Personally, if I don’t agree with someone, I try to see the situation from all points of view so I can have different perspectives.

    However, some students try not to engage in conversations involving sensitive or challenging topics because they don’t want to see things from a different perspective. A lot of opinions on things are taught at home or from research done by someone.

  15. tyra says:

    Some students may eschew ideas that challenge their own, because they may not be prepare for the response. These students would rather have their idea confined to prevent opposing ideas. Not all students avoid vocalizing what they believe in. If you do not agree with an idea, you should back up your argument with valid points.

  16. Davan Reece says:

    In our society, we live in a bubble. All people, not just students, are locked away in their bubble and do not want to venture outside. This is nothing new, as Facebook and other social media services know where you lean politically and display ads and pages that entice you. They know what you and your close friends like, so they advertise that in order to get the most clicks. With most students living on social media, do you expect us to even bother? When you add in the malleability of young minds, students are essentially bred to stay within their bubble. Obviously, there are some outliers, but if take a group of ten high schoolers, at least seven will be on some form of social media for more than one hour a day. Our modern teenage ecosystem locks us in our bubble. However, if students are vigilant enough, social media could be used to open minds. We have seen the power of the internet numerous times, and if any generation is going to change the world using the web, it will be ours.

  17. Zakkaria Reaves says:

    Personally, I believe students try to refrain from being pushed beyond their comfort zones because challenges have their way of intimidating those challenged. For instance, coming here, I knew it would be hard, but mentally, I was not at all prepared. So, once the challenges began to roll in, I began to feel less smart, if that makes sense. The rigorous courses and out-of-the-ordinary adapting I endured upon my arrival intimidated me greatly. I did not feel as smart as I believed myself to be. With, I believe people are uncomfortable being challenged because it has its way of tampering with one’s confidence. However, overtime, I learned the best progress, and the best lessons, are taught through challenge. If you are not being pushed beyond your comfort zone, then the feeling of accomplishment will have a lesser impact than it would if you had been uncomfortable, or challenged.

  18. Catherine says:

    I think the reason students shy away from ideas that challenge their own is because they are comfortable with the beliefs. They have grown up believing one thing, only to have it be challenged by something else. Instead of trying to see from a different perspective, they stick with their own. Some students may fear rejection of their opinions and ideas when called being called out for them. If someone is challenged, they should be able to back up their argument, and people fear that. Another thing I think is that people are afraid of being wrong, so they don’t say or do anything that challenges them.

  19. Talle says:

    I do agree that people tend to learn and adapt when placed in uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations. People tend to stick to what they have always known and refuse to have their views challenged because they feel as though they are personally being challenged. In the words of Dr. Easterling, “argue the idea, not the person”, and people do not understand that. It has also become a pattern of students sticking to the normal when it comes to opinions on social issues because they are afraid to be viewed differently by their peers. Being that it is hard to not step on anyone’s toes with the many sensitive issues society has today, people avoid the uncomfortable conversations all together.

  20. Bubba says:

    I think students tend to ignore ideas that are challenging theirs is because they do not want to be wrong or that they cannot find an argument to go against it. Not all students understand the concept of putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Some want to be right and believe that their idea is the best. Because of this, students tend to run away from ideas that eschew theirs and that they can’t argue with. Some students also have a hard time explaining their stance to others, and other students may not even want to listen to opinions that differ from their ideas.

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