I’m a columnist. I’m a blogger. And I’ve fallen victim to a bad habit. That habit is the tendency to be upset when a reader says something like this: ‘I usually like your work, but I’m very disappointed in what you said recently.’ Or ‘you really let me down.’ Or ‘I thought better of you until now.’
Those phrases elicit a very visceral response in me. They remind me of emotions I had in my adolescence when an adult would say something similar and it struck like a hammer-blow. ‘Disappointed? I can’t disappoint anyone! I have to reconsider. I must be doing something wrong.’
I’ve always been a ‘pleaser.’ I typically don’t enjoy conflicts. (Ok, I’ve had a few disputes with other physicians I found a little enjoyable.) As a rule, I’d rather make everyone happy. Indeed, that seems a much easier way to live, especially now. In these trouble, deranged times, opinions and viewpoints are seen as far more than, well, opinions and viewpoints. They’re determinants of worth, of acceptability to polite society. They’re metrics, the ‘litmus tests’ we apply to determine whether someone is worthy of inclusion in the group; or if someone’s perspective is appropriately consistent with the Groupthink.
We live in a fractured time defined by tribalism and the ascendency of every smaller (but ironically more powerful) sub-segments based on ideology, race, gender, sexual desire, religion, geography, and most of all, victimhood.
Say anything wrong about a particular group or belief and one can suddenly be a ‘disappointment.’ This is even easier when you have tried hard to listen, to understand, to walk the middle path in many arguments, as I have. Sure, I’m conservative. But I think I’m rational.
Nevertheless, I’ve been a disappointment. I’ve been offensive. To some readers, I’ve been a let-down because of my viewpoints on faith, politics, culture or other issues. And I’ve realized that the word ‘disappointment,’ used in this setting, is a kind of subtle censorship. It says ‘I really think you’re a better person than what you’re saying, so why don’t you go to the corner and reconsider thinking properly.’
Furthermore, no one has the right to apply ‘disappointment’ to me, nor I to them; even if we disagree. We aren’t children to be raised up; we are adults to engage.
Here’s the thing. As a writer, it’s my job to be a ‘disappointment’ now and then. It’s my calling to upset, anger, let down, offend, frustrate; just as it is to inspire, encourage, entertain and educate.
I don’t like this current climate of constant dispute. But it’s a mistake to shrink from it. Oh, I can argue and comment, disagree and disappoint in love. However, to fold, to surrender, to avoid all disputes is to let freedom and free speech wither. It’s to lose sight of the fact that our beliefs matter, that our insights are valid even if they are unpopular. People, this isn’t high school. We must speak our minds boldly.
Worst of all, perhaps, to remain silent to avoid ‘disappointing’ someone is to silence all those for whom I have the privilege to speak. Those who have little chance to speak, for lack of courage, lack of ability or opportunity, or because they will be fired if they say what they think in public.
So friends, do not censor yourselves. Speak and write (or paint or sing or sculpt) what you believe.
And don’t let anyone use that poisonous word ‘disappointment’ as a weapon to silence you.