I've been reflecting on my last article, and how there really are two sides to every story. To offer a bit of background about last week's plea for heightened social/political awareness, I think it's best to share a bit of my own history. I've always had an affinity for knowing what was taking place in the political arena or what debates raged on in society. While that much has remained the same, nearly everything else has changed. My political views, social stances, awareness, fundamental beliefs, basically everything has shifted in some way or another.

I think this evolution of thought and outlook really began my freshman year of high school. Up until that point, I held a tight grip on the values and viewpoint I grew up with. If you assume I was a "sheltered" kid, you're right. I was sheltered, but mainly in a way that sheltered me from thinking on my own terms — thinking from scratch. Little did I know, however, that high school would bring about a complete paradigm shift for my understanding of the world.

The first major catalyst for this change was the introduction of new friends. Friends who, at the time, were probably at the opposite end of every spectrum of thought there is. One friend in particular, though, didn't turn her nose up at my beliefs or opinions. Instead, she chose to engage me about the topics we were both deeply passionate about. By senior year, we probably agreed on approximately 95 percent of the same things. Looking back on how our friendship progressed, I think I'm as grateful as I've ever been to have had someone invoke enough patience to meet me where I was freshman year. There wasn't an eye roll and swift dismissal; instead, there was an entertaining back and forth that ended in me finding myself on the same side as she was.

The second leverages of this change were, no surprise here, my English teachers. There's really something to be said about people who've worked their way around a vast amount of literature. Anyway, between sophomore and senior year, some of the most insightful, life-altering conversations I've ever been a part of took place in my English classes. It's funny how reading about different human experiences can impact the way one views his or her own experiences. Personally, I found that it also forced me to recognize the infinite circumstances people can encounter in life. I could no longer process my one, individual experience without placing it in the larger context of all humanity. Needless to say, I'm eternally grateful for the superb English teachers I was privileged to have in high school.

The third and final components to my self-proclaimed conversion were two classes that'd I'd gladly take again, Social Justice and World Religions. Although it got off to a rocky start my junior year, the actual material and topics covered in our Social Justice class shook me to my core. Honestly, I think this course was the complete 180 for me. There were so many scenarios and aspects of life that I'd never once pondered. To this day, I've never crossed paths with many of the things we discussed, but plenty of other people have. For me, that was the revelation, to become aware of how different life can look for people outside of myself or my inner circle. Not to be overshadowed, though, World Religions was equally important. To keep it short, my upbringing had me believe that my religion was the way; it was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Not to say that I was brought up to be discriminatory towards other religions, but there was definitely a dismissive attitude. World Religions managed to infiltrate that shortsightedness and illuminate a humbling diversity of other religions. The class demanded respect for every culture, but it also enlightened us truthfully about the world around us.

Sometime around the last election, some unnamed family members liked to taunt me by name-calling me, if you will, a "liberal." If by "liberal," they meant working towards compassion, open-mindedness, and inclusivity, then yes. I agreed, I'm a *gasp* "liberal." I don't see how or why political affiliation is an automatic insult when used by the opposing party, but alas, sticks and stones. Anyway, I found it slightly amusing to see how their attitudes changed towards political discussions when I didn't agree with 100 percent of their opinions. Really, it became less and less of a conversation starter, but I felt that I needed to stand firm in the direction my thinking had gone when necessary. They'd always known me to have a penchant for current events and such, so why should I stop speaking on them just because it wasn't the same voice they were used to hearing?

Looking back, I'm easily a far-cry from my ultra-conservative roots. Mind you, my point isn't to criticize my upbringing. I know that I was brought up with good intentions. My mind and heart have just taken me in a different direction. I'm incredibly grateful for those who, at the time, were unknowingly undoing the deeply ingrained biases I had grown up with. Little by little, the friends, teachers, and classes prompted me to shift the way I had always thought. They forced me to reevaluate my place in this world, and how I was just a minute fraction out of all that exists.

I reflect on the evolution of my views of politics, social issues, or just life in general quite often. It's been a long, long journey. Each step involving new influences, new ideas, and new opportunities. I think I've come to a small conclusion that it's OK to think new thoughts; and sometimes, it's essential to change.