Tuesday, July 25

My meta-column: A love-hate relationship with Opinion writing -30-


(Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)

(Michael Zshornack/Photo editor)


I hate writing for Opinion. Sometimes.

Sometimes, the column-writing process directly contradicts things I’ve learned in college.

During these years at UCLA, I’ve learned to complicate and question – how to seek nuance, listen to others and empathize with their perspectives, or challenge them where necessary. I always tell people that my major, human biology and society, is the best major choice for indecisive people like myself. The program has touted interdisciplinary ways of thinking and showed me that life is more beautiful when you fence-sit the North and South Campus divide, or rather, disregard it altogether.

As a copy editor for the Daily Bruin, I tried some news reporting before switching to Opinion columns. When you write a column on certain issues – to be punchy, interesting, memorable, rake in likes, shares, clicks, reads, glances and maybe some “heart” Facebook reactions if you’re lucky – it has to be, more or less, polarized. It has to be a reduced yet stimulating snapshot of the problem, whether that be due to physical constraints, like space in a newspaper, or the more abstract constraints of your readers’ time and attention span.

Of course, the column is not simply published in a physical paper; it enters a milieu of other competing platforms. It goes on a Facebook page, where students like you and me have limited time in that one-week span between quarter system midterms and finals to read stuff in their news feeds. It’s published on Twitter, where our president, the Cheeto-in-chief, does most of his “governing” these days. The millennial mind is all but cluttered with cyber bombardment.

I don’t ever want to stand alone on my soapbox shouting because I know there is always room for developing an argument, for more coalition-building and for incorporating otherwise-silenced voices. I want that dialogue that complicates and melds the issues of those involved; I want to listen and hear people out so we can unify behind a course of action.

And then, the implicit disclaimer that is appended to each of my columns in invisible ink – the kicker of humility – has always been this: I am 20, on the cusp of graduating from my undergraduate career and I am a work in progress. In a cute metaphorical sense, I’ll forever be a live document, a draft under revision. But I also know that, objectively speaking, I have a lot to learn about most issues – although, this is not to underestimate what I can contribute to a discussion.

Good columns are nuanced and engage a counterargument. But oftentimes, when I write, I really do want to put that disclaimer at the bottom of every column, next to my email: Hit me up, I’m down to talk or explain more about this, and I want to work on this with you if you feel I fell short in painting this picture.

For example, what does “unity” between underrepresented groups on our campus look like and how is it forged? This is a question for which I obviously value the answer and have strong opinions on, and consider being surrounded by diverse people at UCLA as a blessing in my life.

And to this question, under different lenses, I could provide hours of answers. I could write a column, demanding a program be institutionalized on campus, or that Sacramento take action.

And I could sound really fired up about it, mapping my unilateral aims, and neatly dismissing counterarguments. But a column’s tenets will never be perfect – a column will never be adequate – in a vacuum.

I don’t fear being “polarized” in all situations, and I’m not one to preach respectability politics. When there are things that are morally right and necessary, or when communities are facing violence and bigotry, we should unequivocally advocate for them.

Easier said than done; the bigger the institution you’re up against, the more energy it will take.

I’ve had to look out for the safety of people in my life – the queer community, the Iranian community – and in doing so, there’s no time to spare. I’ll mince no words and be numb to no injustices that pervade our world. Coming to college and seeing oppression in new ways, I saw pain from high school articulated by my peers and professors. I saw it and won’t unsee it once I’m out of the Westwood bubble.

But in everything we do, we must acknowledge that not everything we want conveyed will be. We don’t have the time, energy or capacity to get everything we want done. Not everything will be received well, or received at all.

And that’s okay. It’s important that what people register matters. Your words don’t have to be bold, but rather true and necessary. They need to uplift a group of people or the issues you care about. To echo Maya Angelou, people will more often remember how you made them feel and the emotions you evoked from them, over your words and deeds.

Besides developing a snappy, polarized voice, you need to accomplish the hardest part of writing: being fearlessly and unapologetically honest.

Not simply with others, but with yourself and appraising your core values. Not so much as a form of scrutiny, but rather praise of what you see as good in the world and in yourself. Not criticism, but deciphering your genuine passions and convictions, and intuitions for why you were put on this Earth for the fleeting moment of mortality we call life.

Sharif was a Copy editor 2014-2015 and an Opinion columnist 2016-2017.

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