It’s like a reverse form of writer’s block.

Instead of spending so many minutes they amount to hours in front of a computer screen, waiting for brilliancy, I start with an often less-than-brilliant thought I’d like to share, and then proceed to draw a blank. The idea hasn’t disappeared. Rather, my eagerness to share my opinion is slowly replaced by worries over how I should say it, whether it is in fact my real opinion, whether I should think the subject through a little more before “enlightening” everyone with a stream of my nonsensical consciousness.

I’ve thought about this matter a lot, mostly because people I’ve spoken with sometimes get frustrated when I tell them that my opinion is to not have an opinion. What I mean when I say that, is my “opinion” is that none of the options they have provided me with are ones that I would choose to adopt as part of my own personal beliefs on how the world should operate. This generally doesn’t appease my counterpart, and the conversation descends into an argument over the validity of my response.

After wondering myself whether what I thought was being “open-minded” is actually quite narrow-minded, I’ve decided that it comes down to this: Whether it is “better” to have an opinion – or at least pick a starting point – that could be subject to change over the course of a life full of learning and experiences, or to acknowledge that you may not know everything, and that you are undecided?

Is it better, I guess, to be a part of the dialogue for the sake of being part of the conversation? For example, is it better for a Canadian to vote because we have been given the right to vote, and thus are entitled to voice our opinions on how we should be governed, even if that voter knows nothing about politics, governance, current affairs, or social issues? What if they know all there is to know, and don’t like any of the options?

Is it possible that, in not being able to pick a side because of uncertainty or indecisiveness or a lack of viable options, you become a part of a different conversation, one that is less about arguing the merits or pitfalls of one side or the other, and more about discussing all sides simultaneously in search of a new answer. Maybe it even becomes the search for a new question.

Another example: In arguing the pros and cons of capitalism versus communism, maybe it’s possible that in not siding with either, or a combination of the two, that we begin to ask ourselves the self-reflective questions we really should be asking ourselves. Questions like, ‘What is it that we need, now?’ instead of, ‘Which one wins?’ or perhaps ‘What has worked in the past?’

I read a book last week titled “The Evolution of the Doctrine and Practice of Humanitarian Intervention,” which, in a sentence, analyzed how United Nations’ and individual State actions have set precedents for where we legally, morally, and ethically draw the line between non-intervention and taking action. (There is of course no actual line, and the real issue being debated is that if States have a right to state sovereignty, and humans have a right to protected human rights, when do violations of the latter give the international community the right to “violate” the right of the former.)

It was a fascinating read (despite the fact that it was published in 1999). But there was one line in particular that stood out to me, and it didn’t really have much to do with anything. It was about how, in giving people the right to care for other people, or for the rights of other people and the rights of humanity, that you are also giving them the right not to care.

This logic is applicable to pretty much anything: In giving people the right to vote, you are giving them the right not to vote. If you have the right to speak, you also have the right not to speak. And when it comes to being constitutionally allowed (within reason) to express yourself and your opinions, you are also equally being given the right to choose not to do so. My question is whether, in consciously choosing not to do something, that makes it any less of a choice? If I don’t choose capitalism, and I don’t choose communism, and I don’t particularly agree with combining the two, does my decision mean I simply do not have an opinion?

Can’t not having an opinion be an opinion?

It’s not a matter of disinterest, in fact I could be just as knowledgeable on a given subject as anyone I’m talking to. When options A, B, and C don’t fit the bill, walking away would be disinterest. Choosing option D, however, is a choice, if for no other reason because it is a declination to choose any of the first three.

And anyone who has ever taken a Scantron test or watched “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” will know that “None of the Above” is, on occasion, the correct choice.

 

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I stumbled across a post out in the blogosphere titled “75 Happiness Quotes to Live By,” and thought I’d share. After all, it’s a Saturday, the sun is shining, it’s summertime: What’s not to be happy about?

Here were some of my favourites:

10. If you settle for just anything, you’ll never know what you’re truly worthy of.

25. In life, you get what you put in. Everything comes back around.

31. […] Compare yourself to who you were yesterday.

42. You are always free to do something that makes you smile.

53. Sometimes you need to be alone to reflect on life. Take time out to take care of yourself. You deserve it.

54. The good things we build end up building us.

56. The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do.

63. When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and despair and cannot find your way out of the darkness, remember that this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings.

71. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.

73. Sometimes you just have to look back at your past and smile about how far you’ve come.

74. Just because it didn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth your while.

 

Be happy.

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Spring is here, and summer is not far off. Actually, summer is only about four weeks away. Third-year classes will soon be finished, exams completed, and school-based relationships forgotten until next term begins, where you’ll catch up like fabulous friends when in reality, four months have just flown by, and neither of you bothered to exchange a word.

We’re a quarter of the way through a year that has been so eventful that I’ve forgotten who I was and what I did back in 2011. A year that has made me realize, both directly and indirectly, that time is real, and is under direct orders to march forward, regardless of how many billions of people lag behind.

And it’s now, a quarter of the way through my year, that I’ve actually come face-to-face with my New Year Resolution: To be stronger, and in every sense of the word. Excellence is a habit, and we are each in control of how we let people treat us. We set the precedence for how we are perceived, how we are respected or feared. We may not be able to control what others direct toward us, but we definitely have some say in whether actions and words are repeated or not.

But it’s not personal, it’s just business, right?

Right. And I have taken excruciating steps to ensure that what’s personal to me, is never mixed with my business. But what no one ever says is that real business is built on what’s personal.

There are very few things I value. I wasn’t raised religiously, and I have no ethnicity, race, or culture I identify with. But I was raised on family. Not family values, but family in and of itself. It’s a system of unconditional support that isn’t defined by blood or ancestry, but by who has your back. And let me tell you, not all blood has your back.

I believe in loyalty, because in a world of subjectivity and relativity, if there has to be some sort of a higher calling, it’s going to be a faith in other human beings, and a faith that is one step removed from rash actions and heated words.

I believe in freedom and justice; that we are all entitled to do as we wish, as long as we don’t directly harm others, and as long as we are prepared to undeniably accept the consequences of the actions we choose.

Finally, I believe in respect: Respect for the fact that we are all going to act as we wish, respect for different beliefs, ideas, religions, cultures. Respect for individuality. And respect for the fact that respect does not mean agreement, but rather an acknowledgment that the beauty of freedom is the ability to have some say in who we are, in what we like, in what we trust.

I’m young, too young to be dealing with discriminatory disrespect, and yet simultaneously too old to only be realizing its presence now.

The politics of how to live are getting in the way of my living. Spring stands for new beginnings, and I’m taking a stand for a fresh start, and for the birth of a stronger, better, me. For I’d rather have people hate me, because then I’ll know that at some point in my life, I have stood for something.

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Last semester, one of our journalism instructors asked us to first make a list of all of the magazines, newspapers, online publications and other sources of journalism that we were paying for. It was then followed up with a secondary list of which publications we would pay for.

My first list was empty, and my second list – at the time – consisted of the Globe and Mail, and the New York Times. That’s it.

It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for the work that goes into writing good pieces of journalism, and it’s certainly not that I don’t care. But with Google quite literally at my fingertips everyday, most of the day, I struggled to define what it is I’d pay for in an age where information is free.

And that is the problem with paywalls.

We are living in a world that places more and more emphasis on education, and on the “right” to information. It’s not enough to wait until the 6 p.m. news to find out which stories we should be paying attention to: We need raw news, raw information, all the time, whenever we want.

This need to know has been accelerated by social media – namely Twitter – and reinforced by the work of Wikileaks and groups like Anonymous, which are exposing once private and confidential information for all the world to see.

An online newspaper site putting up a paywall affects the Internet like a giant boulder affects the flow of a river: Traffic flows around the restriction, with no harm done and no resistance. (Why would you pay to learn what you can learn for free?)

In order for paywalls to be an effective means for accruing revenue, there needs to be a shift in the way society distinguishes between information and journalism.

The digital music industry is a great example. There are two choices: Pay $1.29 on iTunes for a song, or download it for free from somewhere else. One option is illegal, the other is expensive. Regardless, I have only ever purchased my music through iTunes, and have never regretted it. My rational is that I don’t have any problem paying for what I enjoy, and what somebody else has created.

So how is this any different from journalism?

The issue, I think, is that I haven’t looked at journalism the way I have, for so long, looked at music. I treat journalism like information: Something beneficial that I need to know and have a right to know. In contrast, music is a “luxury:” Something I could live without if I had to, an added form of enjoyment that I am willing to pay to enjoy.

What distinguishes journalism from “information” is that journalism is information that has been – or should have been – digested, analyzed, organized and challenged.

And that takes work. Do we have a right to know what journalism uncovers? Yes. But it doesn’t just magically appear either. It needs funding from somewhere, preferably from people who support it, and recognize its value. Most importantly, people need to recognize that its “value” is created by the journalist: Great journalism isn’t just a word-for-word replica of something that happened. Rather, it’s an explanation, an analysis or a discovery of what has happened, what is happening now or what is to come in the future.

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