By Eric Ferguson, Columnist
Published September 3, 2014
Not this, actually. This isn’t important. Doubtless there are other things — chemistry textbooks, news stories, 18th-century English novels, brilliant yet ridiculously dense academic works that make your eyes glaze over — you should be reading right now. For time’s sake, just skip the rest of this column and go read them.
Why? Sometimes the syllabus says so and that’s justification enough; after all, you will miss some things in college if you don’t get into the habit of doing the readings. At the very least, you’ll actually know what’s coming out of your fingertips while working on a term paper 24 hours before the deadline, frantically pumping out text to meet the page requirement. If you just can’t take the time to read because you’re busy volunteering for a nonprofit in Detroit or agitating in the Diag on your social justice issue du jour, fine — you’re probably reading up on and learning about those things, and that’s good enough for me.
Well, almost good enough. If you’re passionate about any issue at all, chances are you want to do something about it. And fortunately for you, it’s election season once more. You should participate, but recognize at the same time that there will be issues at stake you know little about. There is nothing wrong with that — to some extent, each and every person is a mountain of ignorance — but for the sake of your future and that of everyone around you, don’t just go vote on Election Day without seeking out information on the issues beforehand. Being informed is a responsibility you can’t afford to ignore.
Who you choose to represent you and the decisions you make to favor or oppose state Supreme Court candidates or ballot measures (Prop 1, Prop 2, et cetera) will affect the lives of others. Any political scientist would tell you the act of one more random person casting their vote matters little due to the statistical improbability of that vote deciding the election. However, the consequences of failing to “do the reading” on the issues on which you vote — and even ones not on the ballot — are damning in the long run, while the benefits of doing the reading are great.
If you want to win others over to your side or even just increase their awareness of your cause, being knowledgeable is key. The knowledge you bring to the table multiplies when you use it to raise others’ awareness. Even better, knowledge is invaluable if you’re called upon to make a decision like the ones every voting-age American is called upon to make on Election Day. Besides, you’ll be far more likely to impress those around you with what you know, and far less likely to make an idiot out of yourself in conversation. Getting into the habit of being informed now, as a student, is therefore both personally beneficial and unquestionably a good thing to do.
So read for the classes in your major. Read, at least a little bit, for the classes you’re required to take. What you learn there might even come in handy someday. Read up on issues on which you have a strong opinion — and for the love of God, don’t just read the latest ThinkProgress or Fox News article on the issue and call yourself informed. Read the best arguments you can find that go against your strong opinions, and remind yourself that some people’s views justifiably differ from yours. Read comments on the Internet every so often, if only to remind yourself how many people have no idea what they are talking about. You are entitled to your own opinion on any issue, but if you’re going to even think about affecting someone else’s life by expressing that opinion through voting or advocacy, read. Read like the quality of your life and the lives of everyone you know and love depend on it — simply because they do.
Eric Ferguson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.