Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why you should question authority

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Irshad Manji [see great bio on her Facebook page] speak at NYU, during a conference on social entrepreneurship through Wagner's Bridge group. She is the author of "The Trouble with Islam Today" and has been described as "Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare." How did she become the person she is today? She knows the importance of questioning authority. As a little girl in Canada, where her family escaped as refugees from Uganda, she attended the madressa, where she was taught that women should be subservient to men and not to ask too many questions about her faith. Well, she was expelled, to say the least. Since, she's critically analyzed the Quran and been a strong proponent of ijtihad - Islam's word for the concept of critical thinking. Ever since learning about her, she's become one of my favorite role models. I truly find many parallels between her and Shane Claiborne, author of "The Irresistible Revolution." I've gone through a similar journey of questioning in my own religious upbringing in the Catholic Church, especially after reading Shane's book. As a little girl in the madressa, Irshad Manji had this question: "What if I'm not being educated? What if I'm being indoctrinated?" So, I challenge you to question your own educators.

Barack Obama understands the dangers of not questioning authority. He specifically appointed strong-minded people to his Cabinet to avoid groupthink.

I question the definition of “conservative." What is being conserved? A way of life particular to the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries? With all due respect, in the long history of the world I would not pick this particular time period to conserve. I would conserve the way God made the planet. He gave us food that grows from the ground to eat - food that is whole and protects us from chronic diseases, not chemically modified artificial food in packages. He provided grass for the cows to eat. Water from springs to drink - not from plastic bottles. He gave us an ozone layer to protect us from the sun. Legs to get from place to place instead of burning fossil fuels and letting our muscles waste away and our waists get bigger. He gave us sunlight as solar energy. THOSE are things I would choose to conserve.

My Research Methods textbook agrees with the idea of questioning what you are taught. I've always wondered whether or not I wanted to get a PhD and "do research for the rest of my life." Well, what if the traditional, keeping-your-distance-from-your-subjects way of doing research wasn't the only way to do research? Perhaps community-based participatory research is an even more effective method. When researchers come to the conclusion that the IRB is more than often a bureaucratic barrier than a way to protect people, and the Belmont Report concludes that its guidelines may not be sufficient in dealing with studies of social programs (versus biomedical research), we should indeed question what we are taught. Community-based participatory research allows the researchers to interact with community members. The success of grassroots organizing has always come from involving the stakeholders in the decision process. Why should the research process be any different? If you want to design a program to help the community, for God's sake, involve the community in the program planning!

During Irshad Manji's speech, she mentioned a conversation between Oprah and Will Smith right after Obama one the election. Oprah asked Will Smith his thoughts on Obama. Will Smith replied, "all of our excuses are gone now, Oprah. GONE."

So now I ask, what do you question in your life? Will you be bold enough to be a "social entrepreneur" and do something about it? It only takes one person to make a difference.

1 comment:

Dr. Susan Rubin said...

excellent post! keep questioning!
the world needs you out there and engaged, you don't need letters after your name to make a profound difference.