Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Opinions are NOT Facts -- Especially in Advocacy!

I am often asked to be a guest on talk radio shows around the country, and I'm surprised that I tend to enjoy them very much. Sure, I get the occasional somewhat "controversial" host, but I find most hosts -- even those I don't really agree with -- to be generally thoughtful people. We talk about things like "Why Congress is Designed to be Completely and Totally Inefficient" and, of course, how citizens can be heard.

This morning, for example, I spoke with Troy Derengowski of WHON in Richmond, IN. While he and I don't really see eye-to-eye on whether people in Washington, DC work hard or want to do good for the country (I'll leave it to you to imagine who takes what position), I did feel that we had a good back and forth discussion.

It's unfortunate, then, that some callers on this and other shows do not want to offer the same level of courtesy and respect for other's opinions. For example, did you know that I'm a communist who is an apologist for Congressional efforts to eliminate habeas corpus and euthanize seniors? (sorry dad)

That some people would make such strange accusations doesn't surprise me, naturally, but it saddens me. Why are the same people who are "disgusted" by the rancor, bickering and partisanship in Washington, DC so willing to engage in the practice themselves? Why assume that people in DC are evil, terrible human beings bent on making life miserable for average citizens?

Their response would, of course, be "but the people in Washington, DC are evil, terrible human beings bent on making my life miserable." This, my friends, is an opinion. And, get this, opinions vary from person to person. Some people actually truly and honestly believe that single-payer health care systems and financial services reform are good things. It is not a fact that "everyone hates everything Congress is doing," to paraphrase one of the recent callers on a show. That is opinion and effective advocates will be very careful in differentiating between the two.

I may be titling at windmills here, but I'd encourage anyone hoping to engage in civil political discourse to heed to words of Evelyn Beatrice Hall (as she describes Voltaire's perspective) "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

In other words, everyone is entitled to have (and to express) their opinion. No one should be shouted down or prevented from sharing their views. And we all should be thankful for and protective of the right to express our opinion freely -- while recognizing others have the same rights as well.

Wouldn't it be nice to see our democratic discourse work like that? Wait, I think I see another windmill over there...

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