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Student ‘Are We Listening?’ Essay: 10,000 Ears

by LAILA IANSON

Southern Door County High School

Sophomore, Class of 2026

I am smart; I am ambitious; I am kind. Now, I should probably justify that by telling you all that I’m a few inches too tall, heavier than I’d hoped, or too stubborn for my own good – but I won’t. We must not be humble, and we must not degrade our own abilities for the sake of quieting our voices.

Young people especially have a limitless supply of ambitious, imaginative ideas, which are far too often met with jaded reluctance. I have never seen such passion and zeal as when I’m standing in a room of my like-minded peers. It may seem silly to imagine a baggy-eyed highschooler with their nose in their phone is an exhilarated, hopeful voice in today’s societal problem-solving, but we each hold our very own dynamic, independent mind and voice. 

Our voice is low and timid. Our voice is afraid of judgment, of fear. Our voice yearns to be heard. 

Concisely, I cannot describe the lessons to be gained from simply hearing one another. Following a 15-minute conversation with a stranger, Cassie, I learned where she derived her morals, motto, purpose, and point of view. Our discussion began simply during an ‘Are You Listening’ writing workshop, with me asking questions regarding family and favorites. But I left our exchange with an inspirational, refreshing perspective on my life, which I continue to carry with me today. 

So listen to us. Hear us out on our solutions, ideas, and values. Always keep an open mind because trust me when I tell you, there is so much to understand from easily lending an ear to an unrevealed view.

The most prevalent affliction that my generation faces is a longstanding and uncertain issue: mental health. To quote Alan Lightman, “The tragedy of this world is that no one is happy, whether stuck in a time of pain or joy”. Mental health is an affliction across all ages, however, the struggles of our youth are often overlooked and not taken as seriously due to stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness. Modern issues, such as social media, global chaos, and gun violence have put a vast amount of stress on today’s high schoolers. Following the pandemic, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rates in youth have increased, and mental health awareness has become a nationwide crisis. According to Mental Health America, the majority of teens with severe depression receive no treatment for their disorder. 

I have personally witnessed both addiction and mental health affect those around me. I have also seen those close to me struggle in silence, which is something nobody should ever have to do. Knowing this, it is of the utmost importance that we check on our friends and family and love one another. 

In my personal life, my foremost core beliefs are empathy, kindness, peace and love. I was raised on the notion that I have absolutely no idea what someone else’s life looks like or feels like, and that I should never assume I do. My motto is “just keep loving”; I repeat it everyday to remind myself that no matter what, everyone is worthy and deserving of love. This phrase also cautions me not to get self-involved and remember that my current situation should not affect how I interact with friends and strangers. Through this, I’ve learned that patience and gratitude can go a long way; that even something as simple as holding the door or offering a compliment can put a smile on someone’s face and make the world just a little bit better. 

In my community, which I would define as my school, work and town (as well as the whole world), I wish to see acceptance. Whether it be racism, homophobia, misogyny, or ableism – hate plagues our society. In public, I often hear belittling jokes and offensive comments; watching the news, I read headlines regarding hate crimes and scandals. 

In the late Sylvia Plath’s footsteps, I strive to wear my heart on my sleeve and remain vulnerable, but I’m met with fear of persecution. Because of this, I’ve caught myself conforming to what is supposedly “normal”, which eliminated my individuality. Today, I hold on to what makes me unique, and try to recognize diversity. 

My best friend of seven years, Ximena, split her time growing up between Door County, Wisconsin, and Tlaxcala, Mexico. In Mexico, Ximena looked like everyone else and sounded the same as them. But in Wisconsin, she was criticized and bullied for her accent and darker skin, which affected her self esteem and caused her to, at times, resent her identity. 

Whether it be culture, sexual orientation, or skin color, these characteristics make us who we are, and nobody has the right to take that away. Our region may be predominantly white, but we should strive to create diversity and welcome those who do. I believe in equality, no matter what, and that all human beings deserve respect and happiness.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with my purpose: connection. I think the few things that ultimately matter in your lifetime are the connections you create, the memories you make and the experiences you share with your loved ones. 

Cassie, the stranger I spoke to, lived her life everyday to the fullest and felt grateful for everything she had. From simply listening to each other, people can create bonds and unite under common philosophies or contrasting experiences. The one thing I want to share with people is the importance of keeping an open mind; listen to those unlike you (perhaps of different age or background), hear what they have to say, and consider their thoughts in application to your own life. Remember, you can learn so much from a new voice – so thank you for listening to mine.