(Before I get started, let me begin with an apology. I was laid low by a bug that just wouldn’t go away. This was one of those insidious bugs that not only makes you feel like crap — and that’s being nice — but that also saps away all your energy and the ability to think. I’m better now and ready to get back into the swing of things.)
Now, on to the blog. . . .
Yesterday I was reading Sarah A. Hoyt’s wonderful blog. It’s one of those I read every day, not only because Sarah is a dear friend but because she always has something interesting to say. Yesterday’s post was no different. You see, Sarah is one of those authors who, after years of buying into the tales of fear about what would happen if your agent or publisher found out you weren’t as liberal as they were, finally said “Screw it!” and came out of the political closet.
Perhaps that is why one of the comments to her post yesterday struck me. The comment was by another author. He basically said that he hadn’t come out of the political closet because his one voice wouldn’t do any good. In other words, he wasn’t going to say anything publicly about his political beliefs, or about what he thinks is going on in this country, because his singular voice wouldn’t be heard.
That’s totally different from those authors who stay quiet because they happen to be afraid their publishers or agents might drop them because they aren’t of the “correct” political stripe. I can even understand why authors in that situation might remain quiet. Traditional publishing is getting harder and harder to break into. Once you do, the natural reaction is not to do anything that might rock the boat. That said, there are a number of authors who do speak out, they just don’t do it under their own names. They create blogs and use other forms of social media under pen names that can’t be traced back to their publishing names.
But the “my voice won’t be heard” excuse is something I have a hard time accepting. Part of it is my writer’s ego. If I thought that way about my writing, I’d never publish anything. (Okay, Sarah, quit laughing. I know you had to drag me into publishing kicking and screaming but it wasn’t because I was afraid I’d never be read.) One of the reasons we write — or at least why I write — is because I have a story to tell and I think people will read it.
But there’s another reason I shake my head when I read or hear excuses like the one this author put out. Saying you don’t talk about your political beliefs, or anything else for that matter, because it won’t change anyone’s mind is a cop-out. Either you don’t believe in what you profess you do, or you are afraid of letting people know what you believe. I’m not talking about fear of losing your job. No, I’m talking about fear of ridicule or loss of social standing.
There has to come a time when we realize that every lone voice does have a chance of being heard. You might not change the mind of the person you are talking to, but what about that person who happens to overhear your conversation? What about your child who can see you standing up for what you think is important? You might not change anyone’s mind. But if you start them thinking, asking questions, isn’t that important as well?
Every voice does count. Saying your voice won’t be heard is like saying you don’t vote because it won’t count. Guess what, it won’t if you don’t exercise your right to vote. Maybe it’s having grown up in a household where my parents usually cancelled out their votes and where we didn’t talk “politics”, but I learned the importance of not only considering both sides of the political coin but also to discuss my beliefs.
We didn’t talk politics only in the manner of not discussing specific candidates DURING A POLITICAL RACE. What we did is talk about what was important to us and why. During the Vietnam War, we talked about why we were there, the implications of what would happen if we pulled out or if we stayed in, as well as the way the vets were being treated when they returned home. We discussed the Flower Power movement and the Civil Rights Movement. My very Democrat father had some very, very strong opinions on social programs, opinions born our of the Depression and the FDR administrations. It would have surprised his family to know he was against almost all forms of social welfare. He approved of programs that helped people get back on their feet and helped them find jobs. But then, as far as he was concerned, the government handouts should end. I’d never have known, or suspected, he felt that way if we hadn’t discussed it. That discussion, and others like it, helped me form my own political beliefs.
Did my father convince me of everything he believed in? Hell no. In the same vein, my very conservative mother didn’t convince me of everything she believed in. But the discussions of political ideas and ideals helped me form my own beliefs. I’ve followed their example with my own son, doing my best to discuss what I believe and why without condemning him if he doesn’t happen to believe in the same things I do. The result is a young man who is a strong libertarian who not only understands that this country is only as healthy as our private business sector but who also understands that there are some social programs that we must have, as long as limits are set on them.
It worries me when I hear anyone say their voice doesn’t count or won’t convince anyone to change their mind. Perhaps thinking about it in terms of changing someone’s mind is the wrong way to look at it. Perhaps we ought to look at it in the terms my parents did: is what I have to say something that can get someone else to at least think about it? In my mind, that is the first step, especially in politics. Too many folks in this country vote the way their parents did or the way their union says they should. How many vote straight party, not because they know and agree with what the candidates on that slate say but because they are Democrat or Republican?
Our job, at least in my mind, is to formulate well-reasoned “discussions” about what we believe and why. It’s all right to be impassioned in our discussions. But it is the ability to say what we believe, why and to give our audience a reason to think about it that is important. We might not convince the diehard adherents to the opposing political party, but those well-reasoned discussions will cause those who aren’t diehard party followers to think about what we have to say and it might just cause them to start questioning why they were thinking about voting for the other side. Heck, it might actually convince them to vote as we are voting.
But that will never happen if each of us doesn’t accept the challenge to come out of the political closet and start talking about the issues. Will it be easy? Hell no. It will mean that we have to educate ourselves, not only on the side we support but on the other side as well. We will need to know history and economics. I don’t know about you, but I think this country is worth it. More than that, I want this country to be free and great for my son and his children, should he have any.
I’m accepting the challenge. How about you?
If that is the thread I’m thinking of, I had the urge for a long involved post about how I planned to continue to keep my mouth shut, but ended up not doing so, partly due to being a bit under the weather and having other stuff to manage. Another part was that the fundamental absurdity of shouting loudly about how quiet I am made me question whether I should say it, so I at least put a low priority on it.
As for me, maybe I can convince people, maybe I can’t. Convincing people is a goal, making them think is a goal, pointing out a slightly new or different way of looking or thinking can be a goal. Sometimes people say stuff, and I simply must say something, if for no other reason than to register my dissent, or that I see something worth arguing over.
I still think that I should censor myself.
For one, my employment situation is not so secure that I think it a good idea to go around making enemies I don’t need to, above and beyond what my personality makes on its own.
Of course, the counter argument here is that this is merely being less of an argumentative little jerk, and maybe even being polite. There is such a thing as professional courtesy, after all.
I have political disagreements with just about everyone, including myself. (I have issues I am conflicted over.)
For another, I’ve been known to say some really strong things about about a certain political Party. Supposing that they are entirely true, there might be an actual physical danger in saying such things, especially in such a way that a Party member can easily trace both my words and my identity. Supposing that they are entirely false, well, it would be pretty vile to say such things in such case. So I try and be careful how I word things, and to be clear about the difference between what I actually know, and everything else.
Lastly are matters of tactics. I have so many disagreements with so many people that if I pursued all of them equally with great vigor, that I could not make common cause with some of them against the others. So, sometimes I will prioritize, and avoid shouting about certain disputes in certain fora.
Here I stand, my mouth sealed firmly open.