June 2015: The Month Skepticism Showed Its Double Edge

Skepticism: our greatest tool for starting change, and our greatest hindrance when recognizing it.

In journalism school and every day at my job, skepticism has to be finessed. Approaching a story, pitch or premise with just a tad of suspicion makes reporters ask better questions and dig for deeper answers that better serve their readers.

Being the “reporter” hat is not the same as the “citizen” hat, however, and they can’t be worn at the same time (see: Brian Williams). On this blog, I’m a writer and citizen musing over her experiences as a reporter. I change chapeaus when I come here.

But that need for skepticism follows anyway.

My last post is a great example of that. Reading it a few weeks later, it’s exactly what I promised in its opening line: a product of anger. But it’s also (wonderfully) obsolete. We’ve got flag companies refusing to make the stars and bars banner anymore, stores refusing to sell them, war memorials taking them down and Bree Newsome pulling a superhero move by scaling the flagpole to take down the flag outside the South Carolina capitol.

Thanks for reading my blog, America!

But with any progress, there’s always an opening for more questions. Great, the flag is down. Why did it take nine lost lives to get it that way? We still haven’t solved racism. There are still 1 million black men in jail, making up almost half of the 2.3 million incarcerated. Black churches are mysteriously burning down in  the South. The Klan still exists and has rights. Should we really be jumping up and down screaming “We did it! We made progress!” when it’s something as superficial as taking down a piece of fabric?

Yes.

Allow me to use another landmark moment from June to explain. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage has to be recognized by every state. I’m a heterosexual cisgender woman (note: “cisgender” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June in a push for transgender acceptance), and I was dancing in my cubicle to The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” like the Scalia-dreaded hippie I am.

Sing it with me, Justice!
Sing it with me, Justice Scalia!

But after the psychedelic dance-along was done, skepticism started up again. One friend brought up that legalizing same sex marriage would not end LGBT discrimination, just as Brown v. the Board of Education didn’t end racism (clearly, as we’re still debating whether we should take down the Confederate flag). But at least there’s now legal precedent. SCOTUS has spoken. Bigotry can still exist but has to comply with the law.

To this counter came another one: Look at how many people still want to overturn the Row v. Wade case and ban abortion. More importantly, look how many states have already started undermining it. Skepticism, thou art a heartless bitch.

But is it really skepticism, or is it just pessimism?

If we can’t show our appreciation for a little bit before moving on to the next thing, it’ll look like we’re unappreciative, and good luck getting Scalia to even listen to the nearest hippie, let alone put time, effort and a little nutsy-Faganry into a dissent. “You want employers to give you equal benefits? Can’t anything make you happy?”

I’d like to close with a scenario related to tomorrow’s July 4th holiday, so pipe down on the amateur fireworks and stifle the grill for a minute. America was born because a handful of settlers were skeptical of the British government’s authority over them. This questioning led to the push for independence, which led to the Declaration, which led to your kids clamoring for free candy that lands in the gutter during the parade.

And Nicolas Cage doing this.
And Nicolas Cage doing this.

But then there was also a group of jackasses in the Continental Congress who didn’t want to fight because they were skeptical that the colonists could win. That’s pessimism, the Satan-possessed version of skepticism that stands in the way of progress.

So guard your skepticism. Keep it for progress and change and sussing out details that could hurt you in the long way. But don’t let it morph into the kind that says “They’ll never let go of the Confederate flag, so don’t even try” or “Forget fighting for same sex marriage, because it will never happen.”

Or “Don’t seek independence from a tyrant because you’ll lose the war.”

You’ll only lose sight of the things you can — and should — change.

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