A reader’s comment in response to last week’s column left me pondering.
“I have to give you credit for having courage to put yourself out there in your columns,” he wrote in his email before expressing disagreement with something I wrote.
As I have previously written, I have no problem with readers disagreeing with me and, in fact, I appreciate the emails that express disagreement as much as the ones in which someone affirms something I have written. It encourages me to know folks are reading. It encourages me even more to know something I wrote gave a reader something to think about.
It never occurred to me that I am being courageous when I offer an opinion.
I suppose that’s because I have a deep regard for the First Amendment and a person’s right to say (or write) what’s on his/her mind without fear someone will come beating his/her door down. Since it’s a Constitutional right, I don’t think of myself as being courageous in exercising it.
Granted, in the early days of this column, there were fewer times I expressed an opinion about something. I thought of myself as on observer of life with the privilege of having a platform where I share my observations.
I still think of myself that way, but over time I decided I enjoyed putting a thought or idea out there that might lead to a discussion and that might make someone think about a different point of view – allowing for an exchange of ideas, if you will.
That is different from wanting to change someone’s mind. I know how unlikely that is.
It turns out that evolution has been a good one. I have a collection of emails from readers who, over the past 10 years, have been thoughtful enough to write and express points of view that differed from what I wrote in a particular installment. The vast majority have done so in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
Has anyone ever changed my mind? I can only think of a couple of times.
I have largely been un-swayed by readers’ differing opinions, as I know they have by mine, although all points have been well taken and appreciated, and I have given all of them due consideration. And I have always been sure to thank those who have taken time to comment.
In a broader sense, it concerns me today that, in large part, it seems the exchange of ideas is less about talking with each other than about shouting (literally or figuratively, via social media) loud enough to beat down the other side.
Author and journalist (and Franklin resident) David French, who I profiled in this space in May of this year, expressed this well in his excellent book, “Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation.”
In the book, he explains how a person with a differing opinion does not have to be an enemy, calling on those from all ideological leanings to cut more slack to their political opponents. As he told me when I interviewed him, French is a proponent of “small ‘l’ liberalism,” – a tenet under which there is a shared commitment to individual liberties even while having opposing ideologies.
Former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam expresses similar thoughts in his book “Faithful Presence: The Promise and the Peril of Faith in the Public Square,” wisely cautioning us to “remember, the other person just might be right.”
Along the lines of what these two fellow Tennesseans have written, all I ask of anyone is to be kind, something I always try to remember for myself.
Unfortunately, it is something I learned the hard way.
Twenty-odd years ago, long before I had this column, and before I had gained the wisdom of age (still a work in progress, I assure you), I fired off an email to a columnist for the now-defunct “Williamson A.M.,” (part of The Tennessean at the time) regarding something she had written about then-president Bill Clinton.
I crossed a line, making an unfounded assumption about her on which I will not elaborate.
Suffice it to say she called me out on it. I backed down – way down – and apologized. I was out of line, and I had to own up to it. She was gracious enough to forgive me, but it’s something I regret to this day.
Although the memory of it is still painful, the lesson learned was valuable. That columnist was not my enemy, and with the benefit of hindsight, I know she just might have been right.
Years later, while I might not think of myself as courageous when I offer an opinion, I will always strive to do it in a kind way.
If I ever fail to do that, please have the courage (if you need it, although I don’t’ think you do) to let me know.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him (with kindness, please) at [email protected].