Being Afraid to Say What I Think

Malcolm R. Campbell, author and fellow blogger, posted an article yesterday entitled, Are you afraid to say what you think?

He mentioned, among other things, penalties imposed on people for exercising their right to free speech, the lack of civility, allowing violence under threat of more violence, and mob-enforced political correctness. He was also brave enough to say that most of us see and hear enough stuff daily to know how and why the problem is larger than what can be put in single blog. And he admitted that he no longer felt safe enough to say how much larger the problem is.

I responded to his blog: I’m certainly afraid to say what I think. I study everything, including both sides of an issue, and often my views end up being on the quiet end of the spectrum rather than the burning-down-buildings end. When I was on FB and shared something interesting that a conservative non-white said, people accused me of being racist rather than seeing that I had just found an alternative point of view interesting especially since it didn’t follow the official narrative. Some people don’t mind causing conflagrations, either real or virtual, but I don’t have the stomach for it. I brood too much. In fact, I’ve been wanting to write a blog mentioning some of the ironies of the current situation, and I simply don’t want to have to deal with the backlash. Or even worse, the quiet condemnations that I don’t hear about until much later. Even more than that, mobs scare the hell out of me, and I certainly don’t want to bring myself to the attention of a flame-wielding, rock-throwing, gun toting mob with but a single mind.

This being loath to speak my mind started long before the current volatile situation, and was a direct result of Jeff’s death.

Jeff was the only person I ever met who I could talk to without censoring myself in some way. No matter how outrageous my opinion might have been, no matter how much it went against the current belief and what we were taught, he always treated my remarks with respect and in fact could come back at me with a clarifying point, a different way of looking at the situation, perhaps even the title of a book I could read that would take my points a step further.

I hadn’t realized how spoiled I was being able to say anything, think out loud, express what to others might be unpopular opinions. It was a freedom I hadn’t found before Jeff and certainly have never found after him.

Some of the things I want to say to people I am conversing with aren’t full-fledged ideas, but rather the beginning of a complex thought buried somewhere in the back of my mind, but even the most intelligent person seldom can get beyond my inciting comment, so we end up arguing a point I didn’t even wish to make until I finally tell them to forget it, to ignore what I said, and let’s agree to disagree. This makes them uncomfortable and leaves me with a nest-full of half-formed ideas with no place to fly.

After a few such misunderstandings during the first years of being without Jeff, I’ve gotten good at gauging what ideas people will accept or not accept. Sometimes, I put a toe (or a claw if I want to keep up with the bird metaphor) in the conversational waters, and quickly draw it back if I find resistance, so generally, I end up listening to people way more than I speak. Because of this, not only can I gauge what people might be willing to accept, I also learn how they think. And all too often how they think is an indication that they don’t think at all; they simply react.

If people today can get killed by doing nothing but wearing the wrong hat or the wrong tee shirt or the wrong smile, then it’s no wonder so many of us are afraid to tell the truth even in our personal online spaces. (Because when it comes to an online space, there is no personal space with unbounded freedom from rancor to say what one wills.)

If I weren’t fearful of hurting people’s feelings or having hatred rained down on my head, I really would like to write a blog discussing some of the ironies of the minority rights issue, such as the way successful minorities, especially conservatives, are called “Uncle Tom”s, as if a person can’t be anything other than the color of their skin, which itself is the basis of racism, right? Adding to the irony, the original Uncle Tom wasn’t an Uncle Tom in the sense it’s used today, meaning a racial sellout, but was instead based on a real life heroic character who died to protect two runaway slaves.

There are many such instances where anti-racists turn out to be more racist than proclaimed racists, sometimes by infantilizing minorities as if they can’t think or do for themselves, which makes it even harder to say anything about the melanin issue without being tarred with the “r” word.

But oops. I’m straying from the point, and perhaps disproving my point in the process, which is being afraid to say what I think.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator