Current Conditions

Mostly Cloudy
2.3°C

McDONALD: Why you're entitled to your opinion even if it's wrong

June 15, 2017 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


It’s a tough business, this peddling of opinions. Everyone’s got one and they don’t necessarily want to hear yours.

They’re not shy about letting you know it, either. And as one reader recently observed “who the f**k is this guy and why does he think his opinion matters?”

That’s a good question because for offering up my vision of what the world would look like if I were King, I’ve been threatened, cursed, damned and belittled and called the most vile of names.

Yet I persist.

You would be mistaken if you think this behaviour is a Facebook phenomena for vicious attacks on us opinion-peddlers long predate the web and the rise of troll culture.

Eternal damnation may once have arrived via a barely legible hand written letter, or a poorly spelled typewritten manifesto but the rancour behind them was the same.

My personal favourite was the man from Seattle shortly after 9/11 who promised in an email to travel to Kelowna and violate me sexually when I opined it was a self-made disaster, America’s aggressive foreign policy coming home to roost, slamming into the twin towers like great silver birds.

I told him I didn’t think he could get it up.

That’s when he truly went berserk and I began to take seriously the effect my words could have on people. I also began checking the parking lot before I left work.

The column appeared a few days after the twin towers collapsed, with rescuers still scrambling over the smoking ruins. Was it too soon? Perhaps, but it’s not my job as a columnist to reinforce your beliefs or make you feel better even in the face of tragedy.

If I’m doing it right, I’m likely pissing somebody off and those are the people I expect (and hope) to see burning up the comments section and flooding my inbox with hate mail.

I’ve been writing news stories, opinion columns and editorials for various publications in the Central Okanagan in one form or another for close to 20 years now. Mostly they skewed to the health and education beats I covered as a reporter and later on, city hall.

I’ve covered all the major issues in those areas; homelessness, addiction, youth suicide, budget shortfalls, strikes, you name it.

After countless council and school board meetings, listening to staff and politicians propose solutions to those problems, it’s inevitable you will begin to form opinions of your own about problems in the community. (It’s also probably why so many former media turn to politics.)

I’ve got more than a few opinions, backed by some associative experience, but beyond that and a modest ability to string words together, do they matter more than your opinion? Not a whit.

Let's be honest, most opinion pieces land with a thud, dead on arrival. To get any reaction at all, to get people to look up from their own little world, is a bonus, although the reaction doesn’t necessarily come from the direction you expect.

I once wrote a column about the B.C. Hospital Employees Union and its battle against drastic wage cuts sought by the provincial Liberals.

The wage cuts had forced some ugly demonstrations and confrontations locally and across the province and, of course, demanded some commentary from me.

I came down on the side of the union, that if forced to stay in the hospital, I would prefer the person cleaning my ward have some kind of higher training and pay and not be just a glorified hotel chambermaid.

Who knew it was such a sensitive topic?

The hotel housekeepers in Kelowna went berserk, accusing me of being a Victorian-era relic. My boss was besieged with outraged calls demanding my employment, and his own, be terminated in no short order.

One housekeeper vowed I would never get clean sheets or towels again (presumably at the hands of a secret cabal of housekeepers across the province).

Still I persist, even when the words put forth in the social media age are like digital cobblestones just waiting to be torn up and thrown back at you by the masses.

Back in the day, letters were the only feedback an opinion columnist got. Given the effort it took to put pen to paper, they were more likely to be thoughtful rebuttals than frenzied personal attacks.

Now the haters can dash off rage-filled diatribes and hit post before the foam has dried on their thin cracked lips. And our total connectivity means they can hate you now from all corners of the globe, not just your own hometown.

Still I (and others like me) persist. Even after all these years, I still read many of the responses to my opinion pieces, should I be lucky enough to prompt any. I take in the insults, the dismissals, the personal attacks without offense now. The hot idealism of my younger self would have seen me take them all on with personal replies. Now I can't be bothered (and if I've done it right, I've said it all anyway).

Mostly I consider the source and give marks for creative insults for they, minds already made up, are not the people I'm trying to reach.

Despite what I've said about your opinion, you are the person I'm trying to get to and your attention does matter. For if I can grab it and perhaps nudge you into thinking a different way about a subject (or even thinking about it at all) then I have succeeded.

That's why I persist.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
InfoTel News Ltd

View Site in: Desktop | Mobile