We always speak about how you should act and we subtly praise ourselves for being exceedingly accepting and politically correct, but we never speak on the many, many, times that we have said or done something ignorant.
The truth is that vehemently sticking to your morals in a culture that continuously chooses to be ignorant is incredibly challenging. Although we like to convince ourselves that we always stand up for what’s right, we all naturally avoid situations in which we would stand out as the other.
While we want to speak up every time something we hear or see something ignorant, sometimes we just do not want to be singled out as the lame “social justice warrior”; and similarly, we know that sometimes, the offender just won’t listen.
So what should we do when we choose to go with the grain? How do we keep ourselves motivated in a culture of intentional ignorance?
The solution is not to completely give up on being respectful and accepting -- which a lot of people who are against political correctness have already done. It can be unmotivating that no matter how much you have educated yourself, immersed yourself, and told yourself that you’re a “woke” person, you will still feel like a minority in a sea of ignorance. But that doesn’t mean that you should abandon your morals.
Recently, I attended a themed party where the freshmen were instructed to dress like homeless people. Although I expressed my concerns about the theme and suggested we go as lumberjacks instead, I ultimately felt powerless and chose to follow along with the theme.
Even worse than my decision to follow the theme was my decision to post a picture of my friends and me on social media. Because of the absence of people expressing concern or offense, I assumed that maybe I was over exaggerating -- maybe I’m just TOO politically correct.
But I was wrong, and I still regret posting the picture.
I felt powerless. After all of the years spent attending and leading protests, doing community service, raising thousands of dollars for charities, and promoting awareness of ignorance, I allowed my surrounding environment to temporarily gain power over my morals.
When I was called out for the post, I was overwhelmed by irony. I was always on the other side of this conversation, but now I’m that terribly ignorant person. But this whole situation allowed me to take a step back and realize that in this situation, I have to completely hold myself accountable and learn from my mistake of attempting to temporarily merge with the ignorant culture of my school.
I feel terrible about the homeless costume, but it served as a wake-up call that even letting your guard down for 24 hours can invalidate your opinions and views to others for a long time.
Posting that picture was my attempt to “fit in” as a first-year freshman, and getting called out helped me realize that I do not care to fit into my school’s social culture if that requires me to completely go against everything I have worked for and believe in.
This situation reiterates the fact that abandoning your morals will never make you feel good -- you will spend so much time after the fact questioning your grit and resilience. As I expressed to other how upset I was of my behavior, they all admitted to feeling a similar pressure in college to just go with the intentionally ignorant culture.
Especially as a first-semester freshman, following instructions from the senior men hosting the party is definitely less intimidating than disobeying them and thus labeling yourself as the “outsider."
Even if the popular culture at your school is to be intentionally ignorant, why would you want to be popular? If the grain is to be incredibly offensive and immature, then why would you want to go with that grain?
The correct choice is always the one that aligns with your morals. And when you slip up and fall into peer pressure, you need to take responsibility for your choice of confirmation and allow yourself to continue growing and learning.
None of us are perfect, and the people who try to convince us that they have never temporarily abandoned their morals in order to feel included in their surrounding environment, are lying.
As our country becomes increasingly diverse, social issues continue to be brought into the light, and people become more confident in expressing their true identities, we will have to continue to learn how to navigate these new social situations.
College students are known to be extremely liberal, but just as liberal we can be, people can be oppressively ignorant. And some who claim to not care about politics, use that disinterest as an excuse to engage in ignorant and offensive behaviors.
But just because the culture around you is less socially aware, does not mean that you should abandon all of the lessons and experiences you’ve had. While it may feel uncomfortable in the long term, you will never regret sticking to your morals in the long term.