Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do you censor?

I will never forget this little exchange I saw on TV. It was a group of women discussing something, I can't remember what. That's how unimportant the subject matter was compared to the exchange.

Woman 1 : Blah, blah, blah
Ann Coulter: blah, blah ...gets cut off
Woman 2: blah, blah, blah
Woman 3: blah, blah
Ann Coulter: blah, blah ... gets cut off
Woman 2 : blah, blah, blah
Woman 3: Blah, blah
Anne Coulter: bla, gets cut off
Woman 2 : blah, blah ..gets cut off by Coulter
Anne Coulter: Wait, don't I get a chance to say anything?
Woman 1: No, shut up, no one wants to hear what you have to say. Blah, blah
Ann Coulter's eyes grow big and her mouth drops open
My mouth drops open. I can't believe what I just heard!

Now mind you, I am not a big Anne Coulter fan. In fact, I don't think I even like her. But despite that, when someone is invited to participate in a group discussion, they should be given the opportunity to speak. Inevitably, when it's a hot button issue, people will be cut off while they are speaking, but telling someone to "shut up", telling someone that "no" they would not be given the chance to speak, telling a participant that "no one wants to hear what you have to say" goes beyond rudeness. It becomes censorship.

In a country where our biggest thing to brag about besides freedom of religion, is our freedom of speech, censorship shouldn't even be an issue. But it is.

Now, I'm not speaking about the long drawn out rant. The verbose missive that is punctuated with hate, and accusations that can't be proven.

But how often do we shut down a frank exchange of opinions by labeling someone or something a "rant," feel justified, and go on our way?

Or say something is prejudiced, hateful, or ignorant and stop listening?

Is it inconceivable, that in a country of millions, with different cultures, backgrounds and life experiences, that we would have different opinions? Is only one opinion the correct one? And what of the "expert" opinion that is always used as a what I like to say "shut up" factor, what makes them an expert, especially on something that is subjective?

Along the lines of the idiom, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?", I'd like to ask:

* If a blog is written, but never read, does it really exist?
* If a column is written, but never published, does it really exist?
* If there is only one point of view being allowed to be expressed, is this really a democracy?

Gay marriage, abortion, border patrol, immigration, national health care, terrorism, clergy sexual abuse: all are hot button topics. All are subjects that are supposed to be part of our "national dialogue", to quote President Obama.

But do they get discussed? No, they get bludgeoned. People who I assume would be polite and obey the rules for polite conversation, become bullies. Instead of a back and forth dialogue, allowing the other person to respond to your thoughts, voices get louder and louder. Then words like bigot, ignoramus, Bible Thumper, communist, socialist and a host of other words get thrown as epitaphs.

No one is listening to what is being said, people form into groups divided by what they think is being said, instead of what is actually being said.

The end result, is the awfulness of the opposite group has now been re-confirmed. Those awful Republicans don't care about the poor. Or, those awful Democrats just want to tax us into oblivion. Those awful Christians hate anyone different than themselves. Those whites (or blacks or browns or who ever) do want to take over the country.

Which is really a shame. Haven't we been taught to listen to what the other person has to say before responding? Actually, from what I've seen, I don't think this has been taught for a while. But try it. You might not agree 100% with what the other person has to say, but listen. You might find that you agree with 1% or 5% of what the person has to say. Or you still might not agree at all, but at least now you know where that person is coming from. And that has to bring us closer.

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