Thinking Critically Is Hard

There has been a lot of writing about the downside of the digital echo chamber, the tendency for the Internet (social media, search engines, etc.) to feed us information that reinforces our natural views. I’ve tried to fight it by staying connected with individuals from across as many spectrums as I can think of: politics, economic status, geography, race and religious practice. It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s my small attempt to pop my own bubble — to remind myself that my lived experiences are unique and have created a belief structure that is all my own.

An individualized world of what’s right, just like everyone else.

But lately I have felt that passive awareness is just not enough. I’ve been compelled and challenged to try to push beyond uncomfortable statements and assertions to try to understand where the thinking is coming from and to find the grain of truth that lives inside it. Not necessary an objective truth, like gravity, but the subjective truth of a lived perspective.

It hasn’t been easy.

The hardest article I have read in a long time is How to Make Women Happy: Uninvent the Washing Machine and the Pill. Written by a young man named Milo Yiannopoulos the central argument is that women were happier before technical innovation offered choices that inherently made women less happy. He concludes that when women had to focus on homemaking and childrearing they were able to do those things well and that the simplicity in goals led them to be more content. Hearing another person systematically invalidate my life and each of my carefully considered choices was painful and as I read his treatise I wondered aloud how he could possibly write such wide and sweeping statements with so little life experience and none of it as a woman.

I could lay out those points and counter points in an attempt to try convince you that I am right, but that is not the point of this post.

The point of this post is reinforce the idea that it is is possible to hear ideas that are personally repugnant, to push beyond the visceral feeling and to think critically about them. And putting myself in that frame I took a deep breath and thought about it again. I considered the basic tenant of the argument that he was making — namely that fewer choices and a simpler definition of good would lead women to be happier — and asked two questions: Would I be happier if my life choices had been constrained? Would other women?

I am a naturally optimistic person and if I am honest with myself I have to agreed that there are a great many circumstances in which I could be happy. However, my greatest moments of joy have come from weighing the opportunities and options available to me and making the choice best matched to my capabilities. Pursuing my academic goals, marrying my husband, having my children and choosing the various steps on my career path have each brought struggles, but in every struggle I have been reminded of the choice that got me there. I hear the voice in my head say, “this is what you signed up for” and I have the strength to persevere or in some cases to make a new choice.

No, I don’t think that I would be happier in a world of constrained choices.

 

But the harder question is what about other women? Some people of both genders believe that supporting women with career aspirations means rejecting women who want to focus on family. In that framework it is possible that some women feel that there is no real choice to forgo a career — that they feel forced to do it all? And faced with that pressure would some women long for a simpler time when there was only one path for women to take? Yes, I have to admit that is possible.

 

 

That’s the hard thing, isn’t it? Change and choice bring opportunity to some and loss to others. Considering that, the choice I make is to continue to reinforce the right for everyone to make the choices most likely to lead to their own happiness. I have and will continue to support women who choose to focus on creating a comfortable home and raising well-adjusted children.

And, just for the record, I support the men who choose to do it, too.

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