Shooting while blindfolded

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Last week, a local resident got in touch with me to express a concern that a particular topic which has appeared in the Times is one he worries cannot safely be open to healthy debate. This gentleman had thoughts on the issue, but was afraid to express his views for fear of not only rebuke, but possibly even threats directed at him, his wife, and his children. He therefore suggested that the topic should not appear in the Times at all, since both sides could not be presented. 

I don’t want to leave readers with a curiosity itch, so let me scratch it for you – the topic the gentleman was referring to is gender identity. There is no need to get into the issue itself, since that is not the point. I disagreed with the resident’s suggestion that the content should not appear, and this disagreement was based on two things. Firstly, the Times is a different kind of newspaper, in that it is meant to act as the “voice of the community” – contributions, and answers to those contributions, are always welcome, so long as they are not obscene or slanderous. Secondly, rather than argue that someone else’s views should not appear in the Times, it was my view that the concerned gentleman should simply write his opposing views in the form of an op-ed or Letter to the Editor. 

We abandoned the tedious email exchanges, which were prone to miscommunication, and the resident and I had a phone call. A gentleman indeed, he politely and privately expressed his views to me. It was a civil discussion which ended with a follow-up email in which he urged me to pass along words of support to the person on the “other side” of the debate. What was troubling, however, was that he also expressed why he felt he couldn’t share his views in the Times. With a topic so polarizing, and people often ruthless and unforgiving, he fears that simply providing his opinion could threaten the safety of his family. Even worse is that I agree.

When did people become so detached from level-headed common sense and human decency? When did death threats become an automatic “no big deal” response to a difference of opinion? Are we forgetting how to empathize with other people and think about perspectives other than our own? It’s okay to be a social justice warrior, but it’s not okay to threaten others with death. Having to actually say that is simply absurd. 

Everyone has loved ones. Every single person has at least one other person they care deeply about, if not many. These loved ones are people whose deaths would devastate us – our children, our spouses, our parents, our siblings, our friends. It is perfectly normal to get a rush of adrenaline and a commitment to protect these loved ones at all costs when they are threatened. If this is something we all experience, then why can’t we extrapolate these feelings, and realize that it’s wrong to put someone else through it? “It’s wrong to tell someone I am going to kill their children just because I disagree with their ideas” – why is this such a hard concept for people? Kindergartners can tell you that it’s best to treat people how you want to be treated, so why can fewer and fewer adults manage it lately?

Words are a powerful tool. There is no doubt of that. However, all powerful tools can be misused. A knife can be used to prepare a delicious meal, or to end a life. A gun can be used to hunt sustainably for food, or to end a life. And words can be used to engage in intelligent debate, or to threaten to end a life. Threatening death in response to a disagreement of ideas is so very unreasonable. It is akin to shooting a gun while blindfolded. It is reckless, senseless, overreactive, and shows total disregard for others. Not to mention that, because threats can scare people into silence, the result is a stifled exchange of ideas, which never makes the world a better place. 

Some of the most tragic events in our history have been fueled by fear. We know that a large proportion of German soldiers in World War II fought for Hitler only because of threats toward them and their families. How a person like Hitler even rose to power in a democratic country can be attributed to the gradual stifling of competing ideas. 

How often do we hear in news stories that a person has “received death threats” after doing or saying something controversial? One time is too many. It needs to stop. The fact that I can’t honestly provide. 

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