Friday, February 4, 2011

Trying to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

My local community newspaper provides a lot of great community news, for which I am grateful. However, it also publishes readers’ letters that are often quite vitriolic. I appreciate free speech, but the tenor of the letters leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many people. It has prompted some to stop reading this community newspaper altogether.

I understand that reaction. The letters to the editor are often ugly in tone, factually inaccurate and/or sanctimonious. They remind me a lot of what I hear when I tune in to conservative talk radio and the hosts take calls from their riled-up listeners. I appreciate friends of mine who simply don’t want to be exposed to such negativity.

But I also get frustrated that readers of this community newspaper rarely dispute any of the bitter and false things expressed in such letters to the editor. I have noticed that such unchallenged ugliness seems to actually encourage others to contribute to the downward spiral. It also seems to discourage more positive voices from even being raised. For this reason, I’ve written my own letters to the editor in a couple of instances in recent months. I have had enthusiastic feedback from friends in our community who are tired of all the letters spewing anger and non sequiturs.

Recently, I was motivated to write in response to two readers’ letters. Incredibly, one blamed President Obama for an unemployed neighbor becoming a “lazy” drug addict. The other reader bitterly threw blame in all directions for the state of Arizona’s health care system. Though he had blame to throw at undocumented workers and medical professionals, the reader specifically exempted our own governor, Jan Brewer, from all culpability. These readers’ letters are available at the link below:

My letter in response was printed. It is available at the following link:

I think we ought to stand up and be heard when people speak out in an unproductive, hate-filled manner. It is so unworthy of a dynamic and optimistic country like ours. But we have to challenge such mean-spirited voices in a way that is not personally belittling and that ultimately encourages more productive discourse. It is a fine line to condemn the message and not the messenger in such instances. It is also a line that we in the United States are not always skilled at discerning. Indeed, we have not had a lot of role models to follow in recent years.

Matthew 5:14 (The Message)

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

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