as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Wednesday, June 24, 2015
By TOM HENRY
Current political climate and public behavior teaches that he/she who shouts loudest will eventually win. The art of compromise and community is an antiquated concept, only found in high-brow fiction and fairy tales of days gone by. We as a society have become so polarized that there seems to be no middle ground. But it really is alright to disagree and to challenge each other in the marketplace of ideas.
Some of our leaders are calling for transformational changes in America. Others are screaming back that all change is bad and must be fought to the death. Opposing ideas are vilified and those that disagree are portrayed as the devil himself. But, like most everything in life, there are always two sides to every story and the truth typically lies somewhere between the two extremes. This is not an endorsement that “all things are relative”. Absolutely not; but it is the admission that I have yet to meet any mere mortal that possesses all truth on every issue of life.
America, and Blytheville for that matter, is a melting pot. Very few people would disagree with that, but what people do disagree with is what kind of pot it is and what is to be made in the pot. I fervently believe that we are a “stew pot” that melds together the lovely fragrances of diversity, with splendid splashes of differences and seasoned with the spiciness of debate and disagreement. Variety is the key ingredient in the stew (American experience) and when the heat is applied along with coming in contact with the different ingredients, it brings out an even better flavor and aroma than before. But tomatoes still remain tomatoes and potatoes still remain potatoes within the stew.
Members of the politically correct (PC) police see the American pot as a refiner’s pot where all the dross (those things they disagree with) must be purged through intense heat and removal until the final product is entirely homogenized and something altogether different is transformationally produced. They preach tolerance of their ideas, but are very often most intolerant of those that do not agree with them. They seek to remove their opponents from the very battlefield of ideas altogether through boycott, intimidation, media campaigns, etc. We have seen many instances of people and/or businesses being nearly ruined (or worse) by boycott, sanctions and divestment in an era of what is being called by some as “politically correct hate”. Examples range from the Paula Deen controversy, the NCAA boycott of South Carolina, Chick-fill-A boycott and pickets, boycotts of Christian bakers and wedding providers that refuse service to same sex couples and this week’s commercial moves against those that sell the Confederate flag.
Others, such as former President Jimmy Carter, have called America a beautiful mosaic, but even this metaphor applies because the black, yellow, brown, red and white remains but the entire mosaic is made more beautiful because of the contrast and its variety. America is much stronger because of “yankee ingenuity”, “southern hospitality” and “rugged western independence”, all different but equally valuable and worthy of celebration. Likewise, the “heart and conscience” of American liberalism provides a good counterbalance to the “traditional law and order” that American conservatism brings.
Along the way, each of us in that beautiful mosaic tend to build monuments and symbols that are used to remember the past. Unfortunately, monuments and symbols almost always convey mixed messages. It must also be remembered that monuments and symbols belong to BOTH the living and the dead. To some a confederate battle flag honestly represents an appreciation of their heritage and of the cavalier and uniquely Southern way of life. Equally, the same flag has been exploited by others to rally hatred, oppression and rebellion. Both messages are valid interpretations, however both expressions are also equally protected by the first amendment.
Believe it or not, we have the constitutional right to offend. The courts have reaffirmed numerous times that in the American experience, there is a “free trade in ideas” and this requires that the minority (smaller, unpopular group that is offending) has the protected right to offend. People have the right to be offensive and we just need to not let it ruin our day. The way to combat offensive disagreements is through a well thought out exchange of ideas. Just win the argument. But it is not right to remove those we disagree with from the public forum altogether.
Why is this a big deal? Because we live in a republic where the minority is protected from the tyranny of the majority. Otherwise, we devolve into a oligarchy where only a few (those with voice) rule and reign by manipulating a mob mentality of the masses. If we allow anyone, particularly those people we disagree with, to have their voices silenced, then it is only a matter of time before ours will be as well. Free speech and expression without the right to offend is no free speech at all.
Should we strive to offend, absolutely not. It is bad manners, inconsiderate and just downright mean to strive to offend just for the sake of being offensive. Most people are taught at a very young age to think of what other people would feel and to try to avoid hurting others. However, indeed there is a time to draw a line in the sand even at the risk of offending. Militancy, provocation and division should be avoided when possible though. The real trick we all must learn is how to react when we are being offended! Remember, meekness does not mean weakness.