There are many things that spark my curiosity, especially driving west on Interstate 70 in Columbia. For example, I am always amazed by the number of Machens dealerships that line Vandiver Drive.

I am not a big fan of roadside billboards. Some are designed with writing too small or too crowded, or they have unrecognizable illustrations and cannot be read or understood while driving by at 70 mph.

Some, usually boards on private property, are in poor condition and should be removed as eyesores.

Some are simply confusing. But occasionally, one comes across that is relevant to the area or has an interesting message.

One billboard seen on westbound I-70 at Range Line Street has intrigued me for months. It’s a simple billboard with a simple message: “Think For Yourself.”

It was first brought to my attention by my friend Steve. Then Henry called me and told me about its existence. So, I decided to take a closer look at the billboard and drove to the back lot of a Joe Machens dealership to get a better view.

The physical billboard is owned by DDI Media. There is no indication of who is renting the space, no telephone number nor an affiliation with any group that might have left the sign. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I called DDI and asked them about the origins of this poignant message.

DDI is not a small company. Based in St. Louis, they have more than 1,300 billboards in Missouri and Illinois, mostly along I-70, I-55 and I-44. They also manage DDC Signs billboards in Indiana and Tennessee. They rent sign space to organizations, corporations and the occasional individual.

Is this billboard along I-70 just a reminder of the Beatles’ song of the same title found on the Rubber Soul album, or is it something with a deeper philosophical meaning? Is it advertising the nonprofit Let Grow’s scholarship contest? Is it a message to those who blindly follow their political or religious leaders?

Curious drivers in Missouri want to know.

I called DDI and asked “Who is the renter of the sign?” Unfortunately, they cannot give out the information as to who is renting their billboards if not indicated on the advertisement.

I even went to the city to ask if the billboard renter had to register with the city. The simple answer was, “no registration is required.”

Not receiving a satisfactory response, I contacted a number of other organizations that have rented billboard space in the past with secular messages, but still no luck.

For the time being, it looks like the “Who is renting the sign?” will remain unanswered.

Yet the sign remains, making its statement for all to read.

I happen to like the proclamation, especially in an age when the world, from television commentators to politicians to religious leaders, is telling us how to think.

We rarely see the pros and cons of an argument, especially on the opinion pages or news/entertainment shows. Too often both sides of a story are not told adequately by reporters who are supposed to remain unbiased in their journalism.

From the early Greeks to modern philosophers, many have said variations of “Open your eyes and your ears to open your mind.” Take a look at the bigger picture, and not with blinders seeing what is only in front of you. Research has been made easy by Google, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo.

Too often we close our eyes and ears to opposition statements simply because they make us uncomfortable. MSNBC and Fox News are shunned by conservatives and liberals, respectively. Even my Facebook friends list is short on opposition names.

But to think for yourself requires that you listen to both sides of an argument and base your opinion on facts, not conjecture or unfounded conspiracy theories.

My friend Sean Spence said it best in a recent post: “I learn the most when people disagree with me. Thank you.”

Although it sometimes does not seem so, most columnists do try to do the research before writing their essays. That seems to be especially true with my fellow columnists writing for the Missourian. When we “speak our mind” on these pages, we take a well-researched position. Our research allows us to think for ourselves.

There are those on both fringes of the political and social spectrum who do not. They rely on conspiracy theories, “friendly” media and discredited leaders, or just make things up as they go along. Think Q-Anon, “Pizzagate” or the stealing of the 2020 presidential election.

Gather all the verifiable information possible, then develop your opinion. Don’t let others put words in your mouth and always “Think For Yourself.”

About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

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