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Why Write Opinion Pieces?

Every August—in locations across the country—student newspaper editors write the classic “welcome piece.” It tries to convince readers of the upcoming volume’s potential for uniqueness, quell the fears of those reluctant to share their opinions with the masses, and convert the apathetic into avid readers, writers, and fans. What these pieces rarely mention, though, is one of the ultimate reasons to write for a school paper: writing material meant for public consumption may be the best way to sharpen one’s own views. It can be an excellent educational experience.

When writing an opinion piece, writers must be able to hone in on the central points underlying any divisive issue, and offer a well reasoned argument justifying their viewpoint. To do so, they must consider any and all potential counter arguments. Only then can they be ensured that their central thesis remains stable.

The problem is, when seriously considering other viewpoints, and giving them even a degree of credibility, the writer’s own views can often evolve—at least from my own experiences. Take, for example, a potential article written about the conflict in Syria. At first thought, the author might instinctively want to advocate for US military intervention; after all, the conflict has already resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the situation seems to be deteriorating further with each passing day.

To write an effective, persuasive piece, though, the author would need to consider other factors; like the instability that might result from a power vacuum, or the likelihood of US casualties, and the potential for an Al-Qaeda takeover if the Assad regime falls. Eventually, after considering the situation with all of its nuances, the author would probably be less likely to advocate for military intervention—at least without serious reservations.

The Syrian conflict, however, is not the only scenario where a dose of nuance might alter the opinion of a potential writer. In fact, it’s nowhere near the only scenario. I would venture to say that in almost every area where there is debate or disagreement between parties, there are valid points on either side of the aisle. Yet, in spite of the omnipresence of these grey areas, many opinion writers prefer to avoid nuance. After all, who would want to read an opinion piece that seems lacking in opinion?

What I would like to suggest, is that opinion pieces should never shy away from nuance. From an educational point of view, both the reader and writer benefit tremendously from an article that doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. Writing an opinion piece on a complicated topic, for example, and trying to understand it in all of its complexity, can be extremely beneficial to the writer; he or she will certainly walk away from the experience more knowledgeable and worldly than before. And the reader, of course, benefits from reading something that is more in tune with the reality in which he or she dwells.

In order to write a great opinion piece, though, a second crucial factor is necessary; there needs to be opinion worthy topics to cover. Fortunately, the 2013-2014 academic campaign should have no problem delivering on this front. Our school faces serious reputational and budgetary crises, exacerbated further by an encroaching lawsuit. RIETS has a new dean, and a new Mashgiach Ruchani (spiritual supervisor), which may result in all sorts of changes within the yeshiva. CJF offerings are growing sparser, after the AJWS cut funding to the CJF’s popular trips to Nicaragua and the Yucatan. YU is going high tech, with a “Google Glass” wearing president, and a fancy new mobile app. And the new core curriculum is hitting YC in full force, bringing a focus on interdisciplinary learning to the forefront.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Arabic speaking Middle East is being torn apart by complicated struggles, driven by a combination of sectarianism and democratization. Kerry and the rest of the Quartet are giving peace negotiations another go in Israel/Palestine; the European Union’s future is uncertain; Russia is pulling up a new iron curtain; China and Google are taking over our soon to be icecap-free world.

With so much activity around us, there is clearly no shortage of topics to write about. So please, take advantage and write your opinions for this year’s Commentator. Only together can we begin to make sense of this complicated world.