As I think back on my life there are some lessons from my childhood that stands out far more than others. One of those lessons for me was the ability to effectively disagree and formulate my own ideas. At an early age my parents would often ask me, “What do you think?” or “Free, what is your opinion about it?” Specifically, one time my mother told me — “You do not have to agree with everything I think or feel, it’s ok for you to have your own thoughts.” At the time I was no more than 7 years old.
I know part of you is wondering, what kind of radical parenting is this? Especially for a young Black boy who would later meet the societal adversities of being black and existing…but there was something quite revolutionary about what my parents did.
When speaking to my peers and cultural-relatives most agreed that they were raised in a household where children didn’t get the opportunity to disagree or express their opinions that conflicted with their parental figures.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I did not have the freedom to openly disrespect, speak back, interrupt, or overstep my parents. In this package of “free thinking” was a necessary prerequisite class on etiquette and manners. I had to be respectful. There was a time and a place for me to voice my opinion. I also got into mischief & even got my share of NEEDED spankings — that now in retrospect to the crimes, was a light punishment.
Nonetheless, my household operated like a place where young humans lived and not a grounds for juvenile inmates. It wasn’t until my adult life where I began to appreciate the value of being able to fully access my own thoughts and draw my own conclusions. As the world has moved closer into divisiveness with polarized perspectives about every topic, you’re either for it or against EVERY person that is…you either agree or hate the entire sect of people who the topic favors…you either advocate or oppress…you either do or you don’t…and the proverbial dissension continues. What gets lost in all of this is that duality exist. Complexity is the very nature of life, culture, humanity, and existence. Simplicity in the midst of complexity is where we find our profound enlightenment. Yet, if we have to water down our varied perspectives into soundbites we’ll never grasp the context of our thoughts.
Now, for a second I might need to clarify, if you are in opposition to human rights sheer human rights — the life and wellness of innocent others, you are a shitty person. I won’t be a silent hypocrite and not admit that when I see people who speak up for everyone’s humanity & rights with the exception of black lives that their opinions & ideology gets discredited in my mind. In all fairness, that does not mean that I am beyond an intellectual debate with them. If anything, I might crave it for the sake of dismantling flawed perspectives or even to get a deeper analytical perspective of how their mind works. Confrontation has the potential to lead to understanding.
At this time in the shift of our collective narrative about “things that matter” it is imperative that we hold on to our own ability to discern, decipher, and disagree — amicably on our own terms. Without this very personal and intrinsic sense, you will get conflated in group-think. Right now, thinking independently from the masses is a revolutionary act…it always has been but in this climate all the more. I am watching how we often act as a society of bandwagon complainers weighing in on every parenthetical statement with the intent to gain retweets & exposure off of hot topics, but with very little intent on moving the conversation forward.
I think true intellect is a process of engagement, refinement/or not, and being able to entertain complexity or challenging ideology without having to take on the idea in which you’re engaging. It might be more advantageous for schools to start teaching children effective communication and conflict resolution rather than Shakespeare. I am so thankful that my family was built on a sense of loyalty to mental stimulation. Allowing us to vet our own ideas.
This process also encouraged creativity. It subliminally told us there didn’t have to be a limit on what we thought. We could respect the people we love while developing something that is beyond their own thought process. We could create our own world based on how we interpreted the one already provided for us. Everything about independently thinking gives us the chance to look at life and navigate it with clarity without pretense. The world does not have to be defined by the collective perspective and you do not have to stand in silence out of fear of disagreement.
Fundamentally, the greatest achievements have come by those who did not agree with the masses. Our greatest revolutionaries and free-thinkers from Garvey to X, Ali or Hampton were all cemented in history by their ability to disagree. The longer we allow others to create the limitations on our conversations and thought patterns we will always be subject to responding instead of setting the tone. Despite the level of resistance and controversy, we might meet from the cyber-police we are free to think and decide what we feel on our own. So to my parents, thank you, I appreciate your ability to hear me out and guide me without forcing me to suppress myself. I now know the value ofstanding on my own opinions while the world feels forced into a side. I know being a great person is not about acceptance, it’s about authenticity and loyalty to honesty & positivity.