|By A.D. Freudenheim||
14 October 2002
Most people who have grown up in and been educated by any American school system, whether public or private, are likely to share one defining experience: they have been taught to eliminate the "I" from any writing that is ostensibly objective. History papers, scientific essays or recorded results, and book reports (to name just a few examples) are all to be written using a more distanced, "objective" voice. Even when the author's motivations, intent, and views are clearly identifiable by the manner in which facts and figures are presented and an analytical framework is constructed, young people are taught that they should not use such phrases as "I think that " or "In my opinion " To do so is to break the carefully constructed objective framework we are all taught must be upheld, or else. (Rarely was the punishment ever identified.)
Case in point: the paragraph above, where I think my views are quite clear, even though I have not explicitly said they are mine. This paragraph may be a biased interpretation of the facts, but it is clearly written using a reportorial style that eschews the "I" wherever possible. To what benefit?, is a question I can barely answer.
Objectivity (such as it is) certainly has its place in the world; the lack of an explicitly-expressed opinion can make it easier to read an author's presentation of events. I have written a number of essays for this site, taking care not to use the evil "I." In my opinion, they are not intellectually stronger or more analytically competent than any of the other essays, but they do offer an illusion to the reader that facts have been digested and presented in turn.
All in all, however, the process of creating and maintaining this web site has been an opportunity for me to break out of this intellectual box. It has offered me the chance to liberate myself, to begin finding - and I apologize for the psycho-babble-like nature of this sentence - the inner "I" that had been carefully locked away. Week after week, I have sought to explore some subject of interest, to review and analyze pieces of the world and then present an opinion. Week after week I have also come to terms with the realization that the world will not collapse if I express my opinion in clear and concise terms, instead of obliquely - because I do think, and I do have an opinion.
More importantly, it has helped lead me to a better understanding of myself, of my views on the world, and of my abilities as a writer and a thinker. Slowly freeing myself from the restrictions of using "I" means I can slowly free myself from the emotional constraints that are placed around boys and young men in our society. (My sense is that girls and young women are less affected by this aspect of our educational system. And since the girls are typically encouraged (and probably more likely) to keep a diary or a journal, they also get more consistent opportunities to express their feelings in the direct, first-person singular sense of "I think" or "I feel.") In fact, I can only just begin to imagine writing fiction, because I can only just begin to imagine that I can legitimately express a feeling, thought, or action through the first-person-singularity of some fictional being.
I think that most of us do not read "objective" writing as terribly objective anyway; whether it's The New York Times versus USA Today, it is pretty plain to most readers that an opinion is being expressed through a particular presentation of facts. In teaching kids how to think and write I wonder if we place too much emphasis on learning some abstract ideal of objectivity, to the detriment of healthy emotional and intellectual growth. In my opinion (and from my own experience), it is a lot easier to learn how to write from that abstracted voice than it is to re-learn, later in life, how to express one's true self.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.