The Cost of Speaking

I try to be a nice person. Really I do. OK, it doesn’t always work, but I deeply believe in the practice of civility and respect toward all people. So I was genuinely sorry when a Facebook friend wrote to say that I had deeply offended her by questioning her integrity, and that we would no longer be friends. I wrote and apologized, but even as I was writing, I knew it was the kind of crappy apology that politicians are known for.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t just phrase something poorly and, as so often happens online, say something that I didn’t mean. She’s right. I did question her integrity. I accused her, I believe, of “being disingenuous at best.” That’s not a very nice thing to say, and I said it. I also meant it.
She is a Tea Party Republican. I am a liberal Democrat. And my faith tells me that that shouldn’t matter, that we share a common humanity. Before Facebook, it didn’t really matter, because our connection was through a shared hobby that has nothing to do with politics. But she is deeply committed to posting the kind of thing on Facebook that just makes me around-the-bend crazy.
Let me say this: there are many political subjects on which I think it is entirely a good thing that people disagree. There is such a thing as too much government and such a thing as not enough government, and people should argue their case about where the line of just enough government falls. Governments should both protect the rights of individuals and act for the common good, and sometimes those two values are in conflict. I believe society is better off when there is lively discussion about how to manage those two important values. There is no one right answer on a whole variety of contentious subjects.
But there are things that simply aren’t true. And when this Facebook friend used a line quoted out of context from a campaign speech Obama gave in 2008—a line in which he was calling for an expansion of the Peace Corps and diplomatic consulates—to declare that Obama was in cahoots with the New Black Panther Party to create an armed Black militia, I just couldn’t let it go. It seemed to me, and still seems to me, that there is no way to come to such a conclusion in a way that has a decent regard for facts, and if you choose to put something out in the world that you have no reason to believe is true, well, then I can’t help but think that you’re “disingenuous at best.” OK, lying.
So here’s the question: is it more important to preserve the human relationship and just let outrageous lies go past, or is it more important to stand up in a public forum and ask that people give some evidence for what they say? Which response is more ethical? Which more spiritual? Can you be genuinely spiritual without being ethical? Is it more respectful to call someone on behavior you think is inappropriate, or is it more respectful to make sure that feelings aren’t hurt, and relationships preserved?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I just know that this won’t be the last time in the next few months that I will have to choose. What I do know is that I can choose to make the political statements that I put out there in the world scrupulously honest, identifying what is fact and what is conviction, never resorting to name-calling or stereotype. This woman is no longer my Facebook friend, but I will be a better person if I allow her views and her feelings to remind me of what it means when I choose to speak.

  • Bill Baar

    I’m a Tea Party UUer and I’m indifferent to the accusations I’ve received and the comments in general on the tea party. As for the NBP, there are some odd relations between them and the administration. Heritage foundation has a time line and the recent court ruling against DOJ on the case

  • Ron Schaeffer

    This is an articulate and thoughtful picture of what all of face, but may not fully appreciate. I sincerely thank you for sharing these thoughts and also for standing up for your views. The “how” is of course always an important element in any communication. We need to avoid triangulation for example, and direct exchange is usually the best way to confront an argument or point of view, which you may differ. Finally, I do believe us political liberals have had a tendency to be polite and too subtle in our counter arguments. I do now believe we need to more direct, more honest about our different views, and particularly more precise in our specific differences whether it be on facts or on ideology. In the end for me, relationships are important, in fact I have come to believe that relationships are the “religious binding within the broader life” that give meaning to the word religion. But the sharing of views and the honest confrontation on differences is inherent in building and maintaining relationships, and in the end, community. I believe we need to bring all of ourselves to the world table, and that includes not just those things we agree with others on, but those things on which may differ. And when it comes to honesty and integrity, there is no real relationship if those values are ignored in order to keep a surface connection. Authenticity is key to any relationship, and I believe that includes speaking your mind openly and honestly. In your story, that is what the other person felt she was doing. You challenged her and more importantly, you challenged her self -image. That can be hard to do, and most be done with care, but at times, I think it is fundemental to a healthy community to speak up and acknowledge the differences.

  • A Walkaway

    IMO, you got off lucky.
    The cost of speaking (or writing) can be terrible in this country. I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper supporting the teaching of evolution and opposing creationism. For that, my parents reported they’d been threatened (by “Good Christian” friends of theirs) and ordered to “Shut HIM UP!”, and a week after that someone torched my electronics workshop – destroying equipment I’d collected as junk and rebuilt over nearly three decades (rather modern and very advanced computer-driven stuff at that). We’ve also had kitties poisoned, racist hate graffiti spraypainted in front of our mailbox, threatened, and internet stalked for speaking for liberal/progressive themes. The sad thing is that our story is not unusual… Darla Kay Wynne also suffered arson, murder of pets, and more… David Mullins’ dog was poisoned for opposing the “Good Christians” at the Air Force Academy, and there are many others with similar tales.
    We cannot retreat from the Tea Party and “Good Christians” (as compared to Real Christians, who try to follow the teachings of Christ and don’t follow the Religious Right). It has been painful and expensive to speak up, yet we are driven to speak for truth and equality (and for the poor). I haven’t recovered from the harm they did and their actions made life a lot harder for us – yet in this county, there is also no justice and the attitude is “you brought it on yourself!”. We must stick together and the support of the UU community is critical for keeping one’s sanity in the face of such persecution.