Life can be tough as a politically moderate student on a comparatively liberal campus; you hear a lot of things you disagree with, and anything political that you try to say is going to be blasted by your peers into oblivion. It’s even tougher, then, when you’re this politically moderate student who decides it’s a good idea to work at the university’s newspaper and publish your opinions, so that you can alienate a huge portion of your 20,000 peers every time your words go to print. This was me a year ago, and is still me today. The main difference between me then and me now is that today, I know that my thoughts and opinions deserve to be shared, even if the whole world (or so it seems) is against them. I hadn’t accepted this belief a year ago, until I got a harsh reality check that showed me that it’s so.
One day, I was in my office, talking to Jessica Baker, the previous Opinions editor and, at the time, my direct superior. For some reason that escapes my memory, she pulled up the Highlander Newspaper’s Facebook page. We looked at an article of mine that I had written a few weeks prior. Under this post, there were some comments from various readers. I read a few over, and was less than pleased. The people who had responded to my article had said some things that, to say the least, were quite rude. I won’t go into the details of just what they said; suffice it to say that they added up to an attack on me personally over the (apparently) controversial article I had written.
I was quite shocked after reading the comments. For one thing, I didn’t even know that anyone had ever made comments about anything I had written. I was working on the assumption — an assumption I still operate under — that if I had ever written something that really offended someone, then that person would send in an angry letter to the editor. And I would have laughed — it would have told me with certainty that people were reading what I contributed to the paper.
This time, I wasn’t laughing.
Naturally, opinions writers have to expect that people will oppose what they have to say. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised to see that the comments posted didn’t agree with my perspective. What did come as a surprise was the sharp closed-mindedness of the commenters. They went past the simple chance to say, “I disagree because yada yada yada” (which I would have been comfortable with) and decided to be more belligerent about it.
I wasn’t discouraged from writing my opinions after seeing this commentary (I’m too stubborn for that), but for a while I was irritated. What’s the point of writing, I thought, if people will see my arguments as automatically invalid or “wrong” because they disagree with them?
Granted, everyone has the right to say my opinion is “wrong,” and I reserve the right to say the same of their opinions. What bothers me is that some of the comments suggested that the piece should not have been published at all. This amounts to saying, “He shouldn’t get to share his opinion because I don’t like it,” and that smells like thought-policing to me. Even the most crude and offensive opinions are allowed in this country thanks to our Constitution.
For example, look up the Skokie case that went to the Supreme Court, in which a Nazi Party rally was allowed to parade through a neighborhood consisting largely of Holocaust survivors. I’d like to think nothing I’ve ever suggested in one of my opinions pieces is so controversial as the message of full-blown racists parading through a small town. Thus, to suggest that my relatively benign opinion ought to be left unprinted was an attack on my freedom of expression and the Highlander’s freedom of press. Even worse, these suggestions came from people on a campus that’s supposed to respect such basic rights. That is more significant to me than a mild insult, which can be shaken off and forgotten.
Was I doing a bad thing by printing such an unpopular opinion? I say the greater wrong would have been not letting me speak my piece. Opinions should be about debate, and how can there be a debate with only one side? This is why I was drawn to the opinions section in the first place: To make sure that no single voice can dominate in a discussion of a topic, especially when there are few conservative voices willing to speak out on issues.
So, I decided I’ll keep writing, if only for the sake of angering the liberals on campus, because that’s a wonderful motivation; if they want to get mad, I’ll give them something to be mad about. After all, there will always be those who disagree with what you say. Once you are comfortable with this fact, you’ll be able and willing to stand your ground against them, and then you never have to worry about your opinions being unpopular.