Sometimes I think it’s kind of crazy… I’m an opinionated guy, but I’m also a business owner and community member whose reputation relates to my relationships. If I go public with an opinion that angers some group of people it could harm my livelihood and friendships.
And I’m not so smart… I get called a “big brain” by Chris DeSimone and others, but truthfully, I’m just a guy who is willing to commit the time to a reasonable level of research and to working out my ideas in writing (following Deirdre McCloskey’s wonderful adage, “Writing is thinking.”)
In the end, I keep my opinions public here, on Facebook, and elsewhere (radio, presentations, etc) for three main reasons:
- More people should talk about hard things in public… I am shocked at the nuanced, informed wisdom I encounter in one-on-one meetings with friends and acquaintances. Yet those same people, because they aren’t willing to go out on the public ledge with their opinions, get lumped in as represented by some macro-grouping. Team Red or Team Blue becomes the default labels in our populace because Team Red and Team Blue are often the only ones out there talking. Incredibly smart, thoughtful, reasonable opinions, silent in the public conversation because all those who hold them are unwilling to claim them in front of friends and clients.
- I don’t want to get lumped in with the big teams… I want there to be no question about what I do think. I never want to be lumped in with the awful public positions of groups with whom I choose not to affiliate. However, in the absence of source information, assumption and implication will rush to fill the void. Without a positive effort on my part people reasonably would look at “white male business owner in Arizona from a midwestern middle class family” and assume WASPy Republican. If I care about how I am characterized (more importantly what positions I am characterized as supporting) it’s my responsibility to put my ideas and opinions out there so it is clear to anyone who chooses to look.
- It holds me accountable… Sitting behind the shield of Friends-Only posting, or dwelling only in online echo chambers, reading only supportive sources, doesn’t push me to understand the ideas, to present them kindly, to be inwardly critical before outwardly. Being public is just a little forcing mechanism on ensuring that I can defend that post to any reasonable person. That is exactly what is on my mind before I hit the button, “I don’t know who is going to see this, I don’t know who may read it… Am I still ok with what I’ve written or the content of the article I’m sharing?”
None of this is to say that being private is never proper, I do it and I know others who use access controls judiciously and for good reason. I am simply saying that I think we would all be better off if we started hearing more from all the smart people around us (not just those who chose to make policy their profession) and that we will hold ourselves to a higher standard of civility if we step out from behind our walls of anonymity.
If nothing else, this post is a thank you letter to all of you who approach me IRL and thank me for what I post here and elsewhere. It is often from the most unexpected places (people who have never reacted or commented on anything that I’ve written), it often comes in the form of “I don’t always agree but I appreciate what you do” or “I wish I could say that publicly”, it is always unbelievably touching, and (maybe foolishly) makes me think that even the little bit I do is making a difference on the public conversation in Tucson.
The very first public writing I did was about the poor quality of “public intellectual” we had/have in Tucson… At the time (~10 years ago) I argued that the remedy was holding these pundits to account to something higher and better. I still agree that we should hold those who presume to govern, or instruct those who govern, to a higher bar. But I’ve also become convinced that part of the solution is simply getting more of our thoughtful, smart fellow citizens to openly engage the public discussion.
The professional talking heads don’t hold a candle to the intellectual firepower of most of our neighbors and co-workers, if they would just choose to use it. If you want something better and higher, as a local mayor once told me, “Ya gotta show up.”
I hope more of us can start choosing to “show up” by learning and engaging, but mostly just coming out of the shadows and trying to stand up for something you believe. It’s uncomfortable and has some risk, but it’s so, so worth it.