A society of wimps

silence

Fear of political blowback is making us reluctant to speak out on issues. That ought to scare the hell out of us.

tr shaw

T. R. Shaw Jr. is CEO of Shaw Communication in Battle Creek.

Before the 2016 election cycle, I enjoyed discussing politics. I remember animated discussions about policy, elections and candidates with friends and colleagues. It wasn’t much different than debating the Michigan-Ohio State football game in its level of seriousness.

We used to respect each other and could actually discuss topical issues in a civil manner, even if we disagreed.

I’m saddened, and somewhat frightened by the fact that political discourse is becoming stifled now in civil society. I’m probably not alone in excessive self-censorship as political opinions have become lightning rods which can destroy relationships and create enemies.

Recently, I’ve become reluctant to bring up anything remotely political at meetings and social gatherings, and especially on social media; it’s become too divisive and emotional. My public words today are guarded, even around those who likely share my opinions.

I don’t think this is a good thing.

While many do express their opinions in the open, it’s becoming a smaller minority. Those who hold strong opinions are typically labeled by both sides.  Even people with reasonable opinions on most any political topics today seem to get lambasted from either side of the political spectrum. We’re becoming a society reluctant to speak out. In some ways, a society of wimps.

Reasonable, civil, intelligent people today simply shut up in social settings when it comes to politics. Nobody wants to create a conflict today and certainly doesn’t want to destroy relationships. I can’t imagine the tension people experience daily in business settings where everyone has to guard their opinions. Political opinions can be career killers in many institutions.

There are many factors which have created this problem. The most obvious is the internet, where any and all opinions are holy writ, and incite people without much effort. What began as a great communication device with potential and promise for bringing the world together, has divided and separated people.

Our president hasn’t done much to quell this problem with his social media omnipresence and inciting rhetoric. Our mainstream media has sunk to an all-time low in trust and credibility; we simply don’t know who to believe anymore.

On college campuses today there is a movement to quell free speech. It’s part of the doctrine of political correctness. College used to be a place of openness and objectivity. Today, if someone with a contrasting opinion shows up, they are shouted down and denied their free speech rights. Many colleges have become extremely selective in who can and cannot speak.

The polarization of politics has affected us socially which ought to scare the hell out of all of us. If we have become uncomfortable discussing politics and policy, just what will politicians get away with because we don’t seem to care?

Has political correctness numbed and lulled us into a state where we might slip into totalitarianism? It’s happened far too frequently in our world’s history. Many times it began with silence, which became acceptance, then domination. It’s something we must seriously consider if we remain silent.

Our nation was founded on rebellion. In 1776 we cast off tyranny in a grand manner. I find it cathartic and humorous that a line in the musical “1776” says it best. As members of Congress debated and nit-picked the wording in the Declaration of Independence, a frustrated John Adams firmly stood up and said “This is a revolution, dammit! We have to offend someone!”

It’s not that we have lost any of our First Amendment rights, it’s the fact that we no longer care to discuss or exercise them for fear of retribution, rejection and social rejection. This is a sad moment when we become afraid to speak about matters important to our nation.

Benjamin Franklin said it well: “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”

Let’s hope we don’t lull ourselves into complacency and domination because we might offend someone if we express our opinions.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 9:27am

The author attributes to John Adams the quote, "This is a revolution, dammit! We have to offend someone." So far as I can tell, this quote is from a movie script and not from the man himself.

Nancy Derringer
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 9:46am

I think that's why he prefaced that line with, I find it cathartic and humorous that a line in the musical “1776” says it best. 

Shoegaze
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:20am

I must live in a very different world than the author. I don't see massive self-censorship or political correctness everywhere I look. On the contrary, I've been heartened by the huge increase since Nov. 2016 in engagement and discussion of politics, government, civics and larger issues of American identity, healthcare, our voting system, etc. If he'd included some specific examples, his argument might be clearer. As it is, his essay could be interpreted as another dog-whistle objection to "political correctness," meaning, "I'm unhappy that I can't express my racist or sexist beliefs without somebody challenging them." I don't think that's what he means, but if not, he could've made it clearer with some specifics.

A. Rock
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:57am

Shoegaze, think of the difference between your word 'challenge', and his word 'discussion'.

A. Rock
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 11:17am

Correcting my previous comment to Shoegaze: I should not have said 'your word' because you were quoting what he might be thinking. My thought was to suggest a difference between what Mr. Shaw was suggesting, i.e. discussion vs challenge. It seems as if people today are more interested in challenging rather than discussing. Instead of asking why a person thinks what he does, we are very quick to say he is wrong. We've lost the ability to give/take/understand, in working through an issue, and agreeing to disagree, before we decide where we stand on an issue.

Zeke
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 12:53pm

Its puzzling isn't it. However, there are many protesting what the Republican politicians have done to us or want to do to the millions of us here in the state and especially in D.C.
However once more, myself and many others I know are afraid to talk about Trump's rudeness, broadcasted stupidity and no regard for the elderly, weak and disadvantaged - however most are willing to talk about the unfair issues themselves.
So it seems to me that by and large people aren't willing to talk about Trump's glaring personal deficiencies even among friends and neighbors for fear of starting a shouting match along party lines but are willing to openly discuss the issues.
So there.

Barbara
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 7:51pm

Where in Michigan do you live? Here in the Ann Arbor area you are branded as demonic if you do not publicly, constantly , denounce Trump. I'm not a Trump fan nor a Hillary fan. But that is not good enough in my neck of the woods. I totally agree with the author of this article.

Alan Bedell
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:22am

Read Sinclair Lewis' - It Can't Happen Here, (1932). It can!

Bob Sornson
Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:26am

wimp, noun
a weak and cowardly or unadventurous person.
synonyms: coward, namby-pamby, pantywaist, milksop, weakling, milquetoast;

Mr Shaw uses his perspective as a white, healthy, physically active, adventurous and privileged male to cast aspersions on those of us who are established or transitioning to milquetoast.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 07/21/2017 - 5:17am

:-)

John Q. Public
Sat, 07/22/2017 - 12:10am

This perspective comes a little late to the game. Of course we've been silenced. Why would we speak when the new norm is that the majority finds it acceptable that your job is in jeopardy if you express the "wrong" views? Not only YOU must be punished, but so must your family--who may not even agree with you.

If someone is "offended" by your positions on a matter, it doesn't even matter if you're correct. No rebuttal necessary from the offended; merely taking offense is enough to carry the day.

Emotion and virtue signalling trump intelligence and logic in today's America, so you can expect more of the former and less of the latter. After all, people must be "held accountable" for their views. If the detriments one must suffer are grossly disproportionate to the views expressed, so much the better.

***
Sat, 07/22/2017 - 9:49am

On a local TV station facebook page they have a public comment section to reply to stories they posted and I take a look at the incredible stupidity of what people are saying about things and most of the time I don't even want to wade into the discussion knowing that nothing is going to be talked about in an intelligent manner so why waste my time dealing with idiots?

Dr. Richard Zeile
Sat, 07/22/2017 - 2:33pm

In the American South at the time the Constitution was adopted, there were anti-slavery societies, anti-slavery politicians, and other manifestations of disagreement on the topic. By 1820, these had all disappeared and the "peculiar institution," was regarded as something no one could publicly question without being shouted down and ostracized. Certain things become part of the unspoken, yet strongly sanctioned, social contract. We can trace many of these in history. Mr. Shaw and I have lived long enough to experience some of them.

Jim Cupper
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 6:24am

Nice article T.R.

John Saari
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 7:06am

Please express your opinion, without all the theatrics. And let me turn my back.

Mark
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 10:39am

I understand the author's opinion and generally support it. I see both sides to this discussion topic. President Trump with his use of social media specifically twitter has provided a degree of transparency in that he daily discusses his opinion / thought on issues. This has brought people into the discussion of politics and issues in a way and tone that many "everyday people" talk and act. I also see many of my people whether at work or my golf buddies reluctant to talk politics like decades ago. I have been called a Racist to an Insensitive Person when I bring up that Comfortable Poverty is doing more harm to our society than good. Policies that result with the unintended consequences that lead to Comfortable Poverty should be re-examined. This conversation to many is Politically Incorrect.

DER
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 1:14pm

"Comfortable poverty"...you are joking...

Mark
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 5:49pm

Not at all DER. Look at today, we have very low unemployment numbers, but that is just part of the equation. In the US, we have a very low Labor Participation Rate, nearly the lowest since the Depression ~65%. That number means that there are tens of millions of Americans between the ages of 18-62 stopped looking for work on their own. Many of those are living in poverty, comfortable poverty. We have ~71 Million Americans on Medicaid. Look at Detroit or any other inner city where majority of people live in poverty. I could go on and on, but one has to take the general emotional feel out of policy decisions and look at the consequences. The Federal waiver that allowed States to waive the work requirement for food stamps expired earlier this year and the states that now require work for food stamps, the number on assistance has dropped dramatically....check out the recent news stories. We have the best safety net for people that need help, but as I said the unintended consequences of policies that started in the 1960s have decimated our inner cities as the success rate of getting out of poverty hasn't worked with much success.

Living History
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 9:33pm

Go live a month on the resources of someone living in poverty and then report back how comfortable that life is to live.

Teacher
Mon, 09/04/2017 - 2:15pm

We need to stop blaming the poor for being poor. We need to stop hating people who using government assistance. We have safety nets, but they are by far not the best in the world. Being poor is not comfortable, but even those who "take advantage " of the system are not the problem. Taking care of our poor people makes our society and economy better, not worse.

duane
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 11:30am

There is a void in where conversations can be had, a void in where diverse perspectives can shared, a void in where competing ideas can be developed standing on their own merits. Whether those voids have been created by the 'bullying' that dominate university campuses, Washington politics, issues politics, or is the lazy thinking of people with the plat from to reach the public, the reality is we are here and what are we going to do about it.

It seems the public is making the first effort at changing this by bring a segregate to Washington to attack it head on. We can step forward by ignoring the 'bullies' and simply offering our perspectives, as individuals give voice to their perspectives a critical momentum that will allow people to have an alternative to the 'bullying.'

PROPHET
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 12:16pm

Mr. Shaw has fallen prey to a lot of conventional "wisdom" (college campus quell free speech or political correctness destroys us). But in context, he's right about the stifling of discussion. My view is people are offering outrageous opinions (racist, sexist and oppressive messages) and expect them to be "tolerated" and berate any opposition to their viewpoint as censorship. But the 1st Amendment allows (encourages?) criticism and pushback to opposing opinions.

I speculate the beginning of this polarization originates with New Gingrich, whose politics of personality and scorched earth, set up the conflicts because it was rewarded with candidates winning elections. The internet, Citizens United and elimination of the Voter's Rights Act only enabled bad behavior. I will strongly and loudly oppose bigoted, oppressive policies and will not be afraid to call them out. There will be conflict and whether or not we allow it to destroy the country is another issue.

duane
Sun, 07/23/2017 - 5:35pm

Prophet,

You must be too young to have seen how the soldiers were verbally assaulted on campuses in the 1960s. They would encircle and crowd them, they would shutdown their classes, they would attack them with no regard for what their experiences, they would scream about their honor for what their government asked them to face.
You must have a selective memory, to have forgotten how Hillary Clinton assailed those who her husband had made sexual advance toward. She and her minions made the attacks person and derogatory.
Feminists of the 1970s and their verbal assaults on men simply because they were men, they took it to the employers without no regard to the real experiences of women and practices their.
Partisan politician were late to the current verbal 'bullying,' They need to see others use it effectively with their audiences.

Betsy Calhoun
Tue, 07/25/2017 - 3:21pm

I take exception to the notion that "Our mainstream media has sunk to an all-time low in trust and credibility; we simply don’t know who to believe anymore." The Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian. and the BBC are all credible sources of information. I do agree that these may not be "accessible" to all, as we are indeed in the middle of the war on intelligence.

duane
Wed, 07/26/2017 - 12:55am

Betsy,

What criteria are you using? I use actions, are they consistent with what is said, are they verifiable, are they informative or are they simply spinning something to give someone an advantage, can they explain what they are reporting [can they even know if it is true]?
I use this for media, politicians, private companies, my neighbor.

Teacher
Mon, 09/04/2017 - 2:11pm

NPR is my go to source. And I research and use primary documents to fact check. It isn't that hard to figure out which outlets are legit, but it does take time and the willingness to accept facts that don't support your own worldview.

Pat
Thu, 08/03/2017 - 11:40am

Whatever happened to priorities--placing country before party??? (Isn't the welfare of our country more important than party loyalties?? Is altruism dead??)

Sam Culper
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:58pm

What is good for 'the welfare of our country' is (and should be noted, has always been) a matter of opinion. We have just slipped further and further away from a consensus on our core democratic ideals.

Living History
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 12:43pm

I'm sorry that Mr. Shaw grew up and lived most of his life in a bubble. People like himself never had to worry about the dangers of "speaking out". The same couldn't be said for many minorities, women and others who faced very real dangers to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness simply for being willing to challenge the status quo of a society that treated them like second class citizens. The reality is that Mr. Shaw doesn't face anything like those threats and yet wants us to all believe he's the victim.

Teacher
Mon, 09/04/2017 - 2:08pm

Yes. Exactly.