|stock photo of a microphone, found on picmonkey|
My family did not own a television for much of my growing-up years. No, I was not born before the invention of television; my parents had a TV when I was born and made the conscious decision to get rid of it when I was in elementary school. They didn't get another one until all of the children were grown and out of the house. Perhaps in part because of their decision to not have a television in our home, we were a family of readers.
We owned plenty of books, and always had library books on hand, too--from the school library as well as the town's local library. I read voraciously, and can still picture in my mind exactly where in the school library I could find the L.Frank Baum Wizard of Oz series, or Joy Adamson's Born Free. Books transported me through time, space, and imagination. Reading the Little House books, I became a pioneer. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler opened the wonders of a New York City museum to this west-coast, small-town girl. Books taught me that even though the details of my life might differ from that of the protagonists, I could relate to their feelings. I could learn from them.
When I was in sixth grade, I read some of The Great Brain books. The narrator of those books explained how his parents wouldn't spank him, but instead used the silent treatment. He knew he did something wrong when his parents ignored him. I don't remember the precipitating event, but I know that one day, I suggested to the other girls in my class that we give the boys in our class the silent treatment. They all agreed, and soon we were all shunning the boys. Our wonderful teacher, noticing that something was up, addressed the class after lunch recess and made it clear that the silent treatment had to stop immediately. I don't remember her exact words, but she taught us that everyone deserved to be listened to and respected. If there was a problem, it was to be discussed calmly and civilly, not ignored and silenced.
In high school, I took a public speaking class and ended up on the debate team, not due to some initial overwhelming interest or talent, but because I thought it would look good on college applications. The coach told us that the skills we learned in debate would be applicable to life beyond high school. She was absolutely right. She taught us how to remain cool even when the competition might be trying to fluster or goad us, and to keep our focus on the issues.
Fast-forward decades, and I wish that everyone had the opportunity to be in my sixth-grade class, and on my high school debate team. Social media and the news is filled with angry voices. The consensus seems to be that it is only OK to speak if you are spouting the popular view--and even then, only if you use the correct words and phrases. I've watched friends try to express concerns with current events, only to be vilified. Whether the topic is the COVID-19 response, Black Lives Matter, defunding the police, or some other issue, it seems that the only voices we hear are the loud, polarized ones. Agree completely or be called names and shamed into silence. I've been guilty of being quiet. It takes time for me to think through issues, and while it might seem an easy choice to support a certain idea, translating the idea to policy is rarely as simple. Trying to bring up points that need clarifying or further scrutiny takes courage, yet staying silent implies consent or apathy.
There are so many issues and so many loud voices; sometimes I feel like abandoning social media and turning off the news. How tempting it would be to just open up a cherished childhood book and escape to the land of Narnia! But if I were honest with myself, I would remember the lessons of courage that Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy learned while in the land beyond the wardrobe. Youngest sibling Lucy was ridiculed for even suggesting the existence of a secret passageway, yet her one little voice made a huge difference in the lives of her brothers and sister. If all the little voices remain silent, it would appear that only the big loud voices counted. So, just one small voice or not, I feel compelled to speak up.
I was fortunate to be raised by two loving, kind parents who did not hold identical views on issues. They dutifully went to the polls each election, knowing full well that they often canceled out each other's votes. There were no heated discussions in our home; my parents' love was not rooted in politics or policies, but in people. I know that it is possible for two people of differing viewpoints to be in love, because I've watched my parents' example my entire life.
As I've contemplated my own viewpoints on the issues of the day, I've come to the conclusion that the grand underlying issue has nothing to do with the pandemic, racial riots, or the men and women in blue. The big issue that supersedes the others is how we communicate with each other. Are we willing to listen to opposing views? Can we attack the problems without attacking the people? Can we find common ground? When there seems to be no common ground, can we at least remember that we are all human beings, with feelings and intellect?
To my sixth-grade mind, the boys did something awful enough to be subjected to the silent treatment. I fear that some in society today are treating people with opinions opposite of their own in a similar fashion: shutting out their voices, and refusing to acknowledge their humanity. I am only one person; my reach of influence isn't much bigger than it was when I was in sixth grade, but my plea is that we will be willing to both listen to others and also to speak up. Even if we end up canceling each other's votes at the ballot box, we all win, because we will be like my parents, demonstrating that identical viewpoints are not required for peaceful existence. That might sound like a fairy tale, but I know it's true.