It’s already Thanksgiving 2016, which is unbelievable. I know we all say this every winter, but the year has seriously blown by. The holidays are here once again, and as per tradition, we stop to think about those things that we’re thankful for: family, friends, and loved ones. Our homes, our jobs, our food on the table. The world we live in today, with the internet, with cell phones, with planes that make traveling easier than ever.
As I think about this year, I’m also thankful for one more thing in my life: opinions, both mine and those of people around me. Opinions, and the freedom to express them.
I used to have this shirt when I was in 7th grade that said, “I’m not opinionated. I’m just always right.” It had this cute monkey on it and my preteen-self was proud to display her “sassy” attitude. My now-self, of course, can’t stop cringing at this memory – but it certainly reminds me how much I valued my own opinions, even when I was too young to have thoughts about more substantive topics.
It’s been more than a decade since my preteen years, and this has been an interesting year to say the least. I spent the first half of this year in Hong Kong and the second half in Chicago, with trips to other cities sprinkled throughout. A few key events in 2016 really provoked me to think about opinions:
- The “Fishball Revolution” in Hong Kong. In February, the streets of Mongkok experienced chaos as underlying tension between Hong Kongers and mainland China continued to bubble over. I heard anti-Chinese opinions around me all the time, and I was uncomfortable with the overt disdain the HKers held for Mainlanders. I had just spent an awesome 9 months living in Shanghai, and I loved my Chinese friends and coworkers. I also deeply love my extended family – nearly all of whom live in Mainland China – and my parents are from there as well. Despite feeling personally offended by anti-China opinions, I felt subjected to them more openly because people considered me “American,” not Chinese. I halfheartedly tried to defend my Mainland family and friends, but I ultimately gave up and kept quiet instead.
- The passing of the King of Thailand. I visited Thailand for the first time in March of 2016, prior to the late King’s passing. I feel extremely lucky to have seen firsthand the reverence and love the people of Thailand have for the late King, to the extent where it was punishable by law to speak of him in a negative manner. I didn’t know enough about the King to speak of him at all, much less negatively, so this wasn’t a concern for me. Regardless, it was fascinating to learn about a society that so loved its Monarch that a pervasive opinion was decreed to be the norm (although the decree itself is controversial). Now that the King has passed away, I have no idea how the Thai people are feeling about this law. All I know is that I’d never before spent time in a country where it was literally illegal to have a negative opinion about its Monarch.
- The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. There’s no way I could leave the election out on a post about opinions in 2016. One of the things I did this election cycle was click on comments and articles shared by Trump-supporters on my Facebook newsfeed. Given my newsfeed was pervasively pro-Bernie and later pro-Hillary, it was interesting and quite honestly refreshing to learn about opinions from “the other side” – even if I disagreed. My brain ping ponged between arguments from both parties, and as a result I was left with a lot of confusion. One thing that stood out to me was how emotional and personal all the opinions were regarding this election – Facebook became a scary place full of attacks and anger, a place filled with arguments between friends and strangers alike.
To be honest, all of these events have made me think twice about sharing my own opinion. It’s made me less confident in my own thoughts, and the strength of the dissonance between parties has driven me to shy away from forming an opinion at all, cowardly as that may be. In retrospect, I’m so aware of how blessed I am to have lived in places where, even in sharing my opinions, the only things at stake were my personal feelings. I’ve never had to fear being jailed for my thoughts, and my cop-out avoidance of forming a real opinion is an insult to those who are persecuted for expressing their beliefs.
In a year where I’ve seen so many different opinions, I’m thankful for all of them. For the ones that are the same as mine, and for ones that are different. For the people who challenge me to try and think another way. For the rights I have today to express my thoughts and feelings, even if I’m too scared to. I want to try and be thankful to have arguments about different opinions, because there are people around the world who can’t openly have these arguments. I hope that I stop taking these rights for granted, and start recognizing how privileged I am to live in one of the most progressive societies in the world.
I’m thankful this year for opinions, and the freedom I have to express them.