The power of opinions isn’t one that we direct much attention to. Words are just words, right? Words themselves have no real meaning, but it’s people within a cultural group who establish and attach shared meanings to them. Or at least that’s what my “Understanding of Intercultural Communication” textbook says. Our opinions are strung together with those culture-laden meanings, and we attach emotions to a strand of language that many times we struggle to voice. Whether the opinion is about abortion, climate change, religion or politics, when we finally muster the courage to share them, no one wants to listen. I am pro-choice, a believer that climate change is real and I am a registered Democrat, but does any of that mean anything?

Many times, those labels categorize me as a crazed feminist liberal who thinks Al Gore has the answers to all environmental problems. Labels and categories cloud what we really try to say or accomplish.

Take what happened when Congress tried to pass the health care reform bill. Both Democrats and Republicans spent months wasting taxpayers’ money, pointing fingers and getting hung up on their respective party’s opinions instead of doing the right thing and working together to create a working piece of legislation.

I think one of the biggest challenges our government faces, regardless of who ends up in office, is learning to run our country as a cohesive unit.

As a college student, I’ve entered a vital time in my life when I am forming opinions that will help construct my belief system. I try to live my life with an open mind and heart, but it is a challenge. The belief systems we string together often act as a front for our ignorance and our unwillingness to open our minds to each other.

Opinions don’t define who we are, but they contribute to the overall creation of our identities. Is it the fear of isolation or the fear of being rejected that imprisons us in the confines of our own minds? We dedicate so much of our time to the concerns of others that we lose sight of ourselves.

There is a certain respect and discipline that comes with listening to the opinions of others, opinions that many people choose to disregard. So as I sit here at my desk, writing down my opinions — opinions for the opinion section, no less — I ask a final question: What do you think?