Section: Opinion

The truth about saying “I believe you”— in politics, how do we choose who to believe?

More often than not, Kenyon students do a pretty great job of staying educated about politics. With contradictory information flying around due to our messy political climate, this task can be a difficult one. But there’s something I’ve realized about our campus and about myself that I think reflects a tendency, not necessarily a negative one, of our society as a whole: The decisions we make surrounding politics have become less about what we know and more about who we choose to believe.

This is not to say that voters are uneducated and solely follow their intuition rather than going with evidence and proven facts. But for some hot topics in politics right now, it can be difficult to find the true answer, whether it’s something you cannot understand based on your social position and life experiences, or just a personal lack of expertise. Given this, it’s not irresponsible to declare a stance based on who you are more likely to believe in a controversy. But it is irresponsible not to honestly evaluate where your belief stems from.

We want so badly to rationalize the political stances we take and try to understand everything. But sometimes we can’t. When we arrive at these crossroads, how do each of us choose who to believe? Is it who we most identify with? Is it based off the evidence presented? Or is it an attempt to align with our party’s views?

Take the case of Brett Kavanaugh, for example. Our country was divided on this topic; some believed that Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth, while some thought she was lying. In the hearing, we were given as much evidence to consider as possible, but no one could attest to being in the room when Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Ford. I had no surefire way of knowing the truth (although I could make some educated assumptions), but I chose to believe her.

Another time our society calls on us to believe is when it comes to mental illness. While it’s true that there is significant evidence proving the existence of mental illness, many people, including myself at times, have trouble understanding and believing in the power of mental illness without having experienced it first-hand. And while we know that mental illness exists, we do not always have the ability to crawl into someone’s brain and find it. This can cause people to assume that those who suffer from depression are being dramatic or just trying to get attention. Although I have never suffered from mental illness, I stand by the fact that it’s always better to believe that these people are telling the truth. What sets me apart from those who choose to believe differently?

Now, more than ever, our political climate calls on us to just believe, even if we may not know enough to say for sure. I’m not scientifically savvy enough to understand how to prove that climate change is real. I will never understand the fear that a person of color may feel when getting pulled over by a cop. I was not in the room when Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. It is not and will never be my place to tell these people that “I understand how you feel,” because I don’t. But I can and will always say “I believe you.”

While these are only a few examples, it represents a larger question of why we choose to believe in the things we do, the people we trust and the sources we read. After considering who specifically I tend to believe (The New York Times, the Democratic Party, Christine Blasey Ford), I must consider why I believe them.

I choose to believe those whose voices have been previously silenced. But why do I believe them? Because people with privilege, like white cisgender men, have always had their voice. If they wanted to speak up against the injustices they were facing, they would have already done it. Marginalized groups that are just gaining their voice risk getting much more just by advocating for themselves. In many cases, there is no way to know for sure who is telling the truth, and thus I try to not form a strong opinion without understanding both sides. But I believe that we cannot risk making those without privilege feel as though they are not encouraged to speak out. If that were to happen, our society would regress to a time when an unfathomable amount of injustices would go unnoticed, unreported and shoved under the rug.

Being up-to-date and politically savvy is important. But there are many choices we make that carry political weight, choices that require us to put our faith in others, either others that know more, have done more extensive research or just others that have different experiences than we do. When making your next informed political decision, I urge you to examine who you are putting your faith into. Look inward and ask yourself: Who do you believe? And, more importantly, what makes you believe them?

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