Taken from my column in the Albert Lea Tribune on December 28, 2015
I always dread my New Year’s column. Every year I state, “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.” And usually I don’t because I always break them, but this year I am going to make a New Year’s resolution. It may seem as if it is a strange resolution, but events over the past week have finally pushed me to the point where I can’t ignore something that is bothering me any longer. I make the resolution to speak out and not bite my tongue when an incident makes me feel uncomfortable.
You may find it strange a columnist, author and mostly mouthy person doesn’t speak up and out about something, but I never want to offend anyone. When I do, I dither about it for days, and I feel bad I would be the cause of hurting someone or making them feel less then. I know that has not always been the case, I am human, and when I am fearful or feel wronged I have struck out in anger and fear. I try not to behave erratically anymore, so, in many instances, I bite my tongue, keep silent and don’t express the feelings I experience when I feel bullied or offended. This year when I feel those things I will speak out, but not in anger or in fear, but hopefully with tact so we can have a sensible dialogue without tramping on anyone’s rights.
Everywhere we turn we hear the loud cries of those who are offended about something, some very significant real offenses and others minute and silly in the scheme of the world.
I am offended by behaviors I have encountered in my life recently, and I kept quiet because I didn’t want to offend those that offended me. Does that make sense to you? This year I make the resolution I will never use bad language on social media or tear apart, or attack someone verbally because they have different beliefs than I do, or I will never bully or be crass about another’s political beliefs on my social media or in person. It should come as no surprise that I am uncomfortable with off-color language, after all I write cozy mysteries. Yet, I have been known in private to occasionally use a bad word or two when I am upset, though I am not at all happy about myself when I do that. And I do express my political beliefs but I hope not at the expense of others beliefs.
Four things happened in one day, pushing me over the edge and triggering my resolution. I have hundreds of social media friends both on my personal page and on my author page. Out of those hundreds of friends I can count on one hand the ones that upset me with foul language and a bullying attitude about politics and acceptance.
The first thing greeting me one morning as I checked social media was a post degrading a certain political party and their views. Along with the comment was a brutal comment targeting refugees, and it included an article about that very subject. It felt like a verbal assault against what I believe. And I felt the disrespect for anyone’s viewpoint that differed from this person. For the first time I hid that particular post for the person.
The second thing I saw on my Facebook that morning was a post by someone, tagging a relative so they would see the post. The picture and message was crass along with four letter words blasted across the side of a cup. I have never hid a post by this person but I did it that morning.
The third encounter making me shake my head happened outside a bathroom in a shopping mall. A teenage boy, probably around 16 or 17, was waiting for what looked like to be his girlfriend and her friend. They got their signals crossed. When the girls found him he released a few four letter words. The kicker is the girls didn’t blink an eye at the foul language of the young man. I am still of the premise that young women deserve respect and do not deserve to be talked to with disrespectful language, but because it is so common these days they accept it as the norm. Does it bother them and they keep it inside, or do they really not care?
The fourth occurrence again happened on social media later that day. One of my Facebook friends posted a sign with the big four letter word content saying that it is their right to use that language and if someone didn’t like it then — well — they said in no uncertain terms what we could do. For the third time that day and the third time in my Facebook time, I hid a post.
Three of these people do not behave this way in their place of work. What makes putting it out there to me any different than the work situation?
Now you might tell me to unfriend these people. I don’t want to, I actually like them and enjoy many of the things they post and I like the conversations I have with them on the street and in public. But I will from now on hide the posts that make me uncomfortable.
It is these people’s right to free speech. But it is my right to say respectfully, “What you are saying bothers me.” Here is what I have to say to the bullying political rhetoric, “You might have some very valid points, but when you post what you do spewing hate, I feel bashed and disrespected because my viewpoint differs from yours. I turn off what you are saying and what you are protesting. Please present it in a way where I can listen and we can have respectful dialogue. You might win me over to your way of thinking. When I feel bullied and threatened I shut down my brain to any change you might be trying to make.
As far as the language, I respect your right to talk any way you choose, but please respect my feelings on the matter. You can use any language you want to those who don’t care and in places where it is accepted and with people it doesn’t bother. I am not trying to stop you from being you; I just need to speak up and say it bothers me. So let’s respect each other’s space. I have grandchildren and family who read my page, and I don’t want them to question what I teach them.
And for the people in the mall, my message to young women is to ask yourselves what makes you feel valued and and respected and stand up for it.
We all make different resolutions. We all have different lifestyles and beliefs. I respect that, and my resolution is to respect your space too. So please, if you see yourself in this column, don’t cross me off your list of friends, and if you don’t want to be mindful of how I am feeling about your posts, I guess it is OK because I can always hide it. But my resolution is to think twice before I talk to someone or show disrespect in a post. If I break that resolution, you can hide my post, too, or we can have a dialogue respecting each other’s opinions.
“In tragedy, it’s hard to find a good resolution, it’s not black and white; it’s a fog of gray.
— Paul Dano