Practice What You Preach

Taking a public stand on important issues gives us the skills to develop our own morals.

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graphic by Kristen Kinzler

There are a wide variety of ways to use your voice for good.

Over the past two years, I have written 75 articles for The Uproar, most of which have been opinion pieces. I’ve written about everything from national news to pop culture to school policy, mostly because I believe the first step to solving a problem is to talk about it. I value good discussions and debates, and I think reading other people’s opinions is a great way of developing our own.

However, I’m sure that, in at least some of the editorials I’ve written, I’ve occasionally come across as self-righteous, preachy, and a little bossy. We can’t cheat on tests. We have to seek more compassion in our education system. We have to be vigilant about masks. We shouldn’t watch demoralizing TV shows. The list goes on and on. After all, opinion articles exist to tell us how to be better, and I certainly have said my fair share.

The thing I didn’t expect, though, is how much my writing would rub off on myself. I know it would be extremely hypocritical of me to write about something and become a part of the problem, so I’ve put extra effort into being the person I say other people should be.

I won’t cheat on a test because I wrote an article about how offensive it is. I’m kinder to myself and my classmates when it comes to academic achievements because I wrote about how it’s the right thing to do. I never let my masks slip below my nose because I’ve criticized the way some classes have handled the policy. I even stopped watching The Bachelor after I wrote about how degrading it was to women.

I wrote those articles when I was the best version of myself– calm, collected, thoughtful. That version of me isn’t always the one walking through the halls, especially when I’m stressed out or tired or just having a bad day, but writing my beliefs on a public platform has given me a sense of accountability. It’s given me something to strive for.

Logically, I know it probably doesn’t matter. I am not trying to overestimate the influence my writing has had on the school or claim anyone would even notice if I was acting antithetical to it, but I would know. And that’s allowed me to set up some kind of moral code for myself, even when I don’t feel like I’m at my best.

The point is that taking a public stance for something made me a better person. It made me more compassionate and understanding, and it allowed me to set a goal for what kind of person I wanted to be.

That’s why it’s so important for teenagers and young adults to do something similar– to care about something, to be invested in it, to take some kind of greater stand or devote themselves to some bigger responsibility. It makes a difference.

Being upset is my way of having hope, and publicly voicing those feelings is my way of holding myself accountable and making sure I do not become a part of the problem.”

My public stance involved writing for the school newspaper, an opportunity I am so thankful to have had, but that doesn’t have to be the case for everyone. Doing things as simple as starting productive conversations in classrooms or among family members is taking a small stand. It’s building a foundation.

It’s dangerously easy to fall into the trap of feeling helpless as the world around you continues to spiral, and it’s natural to turn to apathy in order to combat those negative emotions. But apathy is never going to be the answer to solving actual problems.

I’m not saying I went about it the right way or that I made a massive difference by choosing to write a newspaper article rather than opting not to care, but there is something valuable about continuously choosing to dig into topics that frustrate you instead of ignoring them. Eventually, it becomes less of a choice and more of an instinct.

For most of my life, I’ve been told that my stubbornness or my inability to let things go were character flaws that I would need to get over. Well, writing so much in high school has only strengthened those traits, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being upset about things or not being able to accept them is our natural proclivity to being good, honest people. The second we start to accept things as “good enough” or “just how things are” is the second we start to become complacent, and it’s almost always due to some kind of exhausted cynical view.

Being upset is my way of having hope, and publicly voicing those feelings is my way of holding myself accountable and making sure I do not become a part of the problem.

Maybe it’s pessimistic for me to assume that, without some kind of accountability, people are likely to perpetuate the very systems they claim to be against, but it’s human nature to take the easy way out. The world would probably be a much better place if we all took a little more responsibility for ourselves.

So, I guess the main idea of all the points that I’ve made in every single one of my editorials is to care more. Discover something you’re passionate about. Find a way to make your voice heard. Let that voice guide you — even when it gets tough. Start the difficult conversations. Say that controversial thing in class. Make some kind of positive impact on your community, even if that is just working to make yourself a more thoughtful, empathetic individual.

Being intentional about how we interact with the world matters. Holding ourselves accountable matters. And words matter, none more so than our own.