Let the dialogue begin
“A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” — Alexander Pope, (1688-1744)
Changing somebody's opinion is as rare an occurrence as perhaps a “once in a blue moon." Debate can stimulate discussion and steer the course for those who are undecided but usually, once you reach a conviction, the time for switching positions is in the rearview mirror. It isn’t often a person’s political agenda does a U-turn or an about-face.
In politics, as in all problem solving, the goal should be to find a solution that works. The way that happens is when we share our opinions and we find the common ground, and have the desire to build a bridge.
Last week I challenged readers to share their opinions, out loud and in public. Several did and others tried to explain to me that many won’t share their opinions because of “public fall out."
Victoria Bucklin of Appleton was kind enough to share her thoughts on VillageSoup where she commented on my column when I wrote: “What is also interesting is that it brings up something I notice in the majority of my detractors who rebut me with private emails or letters. Most will not go public. I put my thoughts out there, but they want to keep theirs secret. I challenge those writing me; allow me to share your thoughts and your links with the Midcoast readership.”
“Mr. Brower, I will tell you why your conservative detractors rebut you in private, but not in public. They fear, and rightly so, the ire of the left. You have felt their displeasure on a few occasions, but then you own a media outlet in which you can defend yourself. I have witnessed intimidation, threats, and other examples of what will happen if you voice conservative ideas in this area. Here are five local examples of why people are reluctant to identify themselves as conservatives.
1) I know of an owner of a small business who became active in the local Tea Party a few years ago. Shortly thereafter, he was harassed by OSHA. They came into his place of business and made “an inspection” staying until they found a minor infraction, which would cost about $5 to remedy. The owner offered to go to the hardware store immediately to get the necessary part, but was denied that option and charged a crippling fine. To him the message was loud and clear, continue in your conservative ways and we will crush you.
2) A friend works for a nonprofit and often hears open hostility toward conservatives; she fears that she will lose her job if her political affiliation is known.
3) Another friend has had his car “keyed” twice and American flags stolen from his property because he has a conservative bumper sticker on his car.
4) A well-respected citizen ran for office and was pilloried by the opposition with money raised from outside of Maine. To this day, she has family and friends who will not speak to her because of the vicious lies they spun against her.
5) A former legislator was called names and denigrated in the press because he supported a conservative idea. Little attempt was made to refute his ideas, only his character.
These are just a few examples of the “hateful” things that are directed at people who voice conservative ideas in this area. I guess this is why some write to you in private, but are unwilling to make their names and addresses known publicly.”
I believe there is some merit to what Victoria has to say and I certainly wouldn’t want to share an unpopular opinion if I knew that people would shun me, boycott me, or target me, as she ascertains happens all too often.
The newspaper has only helped me air my opinion on one occasion; remember, I have only owned this newspaper for two-plus years. For 27 years before that they were my competition and I can tell you that in two of the instances I will cite below, these newspapers were happy to report on my plight and I had no way to counteract their news stories.
In the end, I trust that people, who know me, will make their judgment based on history, not on hearsay. I trust that doing the right thing will win out for me, with most of the people, most of the time. Not everyone will like me or trust me or my intentions, but when you do your best, the judgment falls where it may and I’ll live with the consequences.
Here are some simple truths:
I have been "chosen” for audit six times in the last 20 years. Full IRS audits; in total, of the six audits, only two have had to be corrected for relatively small issues and another one actually turned up a huge tax advantage that resulted in a large refund. The other three were closed without amendment. The real problem to me was the cost to gather information; between the invoices from my CPA and the overtime it created for our bookkeepers, a couple of the audits each cost me about $10,000 in time and expense.
Two years ago the Human Rights Commission took issue with an innocent classified ad that came in over the Internet and they had Pine Tree Legal come after me and this newspaper. The cost to defend ourselves was the biggest burden; the case was ridiculous and the agreement for us to “take a class” and give some PSA (public service announcement) space in the newspapers was absurd, but a prudent way to circumvent the lawsuit and settle the issue.
I have had a real estate tenant who didn’t pay for nine months of rent, $27,000 owed, sue me for $361,000. I like telling people he got a six figure judgment ($000,000) and my countersuit for rent of $27,000 was awarded, but collection efforts were futile and would have resulted in more money down the drain. The cost here was my time, not being able to re-rent the building because I had to store the deadbeat tenant’s equipment for three additional months while the lawsuit was in progress, and legal fees of over $10,000.
Then there was OSHA; a disgruntled employee turned the company in because we had too many electrical extension cords running in the production area where we were trying to give additional fans to the workers in the facility during a stretch of 90-plus degree days. A warning was issued, but no more fans during the heat of the summer for the workers; not a lot of justice was my take-away.
And I could go on…..
But here is the thing; do I think I am a target of the IRS, the Human Rights Commission, OSHA, etc.? Absolutely not.
The IRS was professional and pleasant. OSHA, pretty much the same. The Human Rights Commission and Pine Tree Legal; they displayed little to no common sense in their pursuit of me but my upbringing and philosophy is simply, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing” so you can fill in the blanks for yourself what I think.
Some of it is, I believe, the random “luck of the draw” and some of it is the cost of being in business and having employees. There are also people who will sue you for anything, and in our legal system that is allowed. Can you imagine not paying rent for nine months and then suing your landlord when he gets the sheriff to legally evict you because “the landlord caused your business to go under?”
So Victoria, and the others who echoed your thoughts, take it from this centrist liberal with some conservative streaks; no one is immune to persecution. It is just part of the price we pay when we are out in the world when we choose to stand up to be counted on the issues of the day.
Here’s is where the challenge needs to start, if no one creates the dialogue because they fear their own personal truth will hurt them, the world does not change or evolve.
“First they came …” is a poem that was written by Martin Niemöller, a pastor, about the cowardice of the German intellectual community when the Nazi’s purge escalated to the persecution of the Jews. He wrote:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Stupid of the week
You know you’re stupid when you do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
Reade Brower can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.