Editor's note: The writer's mother, Tina Dearing, was a frequent contributor to our letters to the editor column and a five-time winner of the Golden Pen Award. She died in February.
As we weave our way through the last few months of 2020 (even typing those numbers makes me wince), I find myself thinking a lot about my mom and, specifically, her 1991 Letter of the Year, titled “Disagree – just don't close your mind.”
While some of the content is dated, the general message she conveyed is completely relevant to us today, nearly 30 years later.
With instant access to information (be it real or fake) and an instant forum at our fingertips, we happily sit behind the safety of our keyboards and spew our opinions freely. Too many of us see something, react and, if what we see differs in any way from our own opinion, have the ability to unfollow, unfriend, block or “take a break.”
Thus we shelter ourselves from any opinion that differs from our own.
My mom said, “The only opinions that can hurt us are the ones we are blissfully ignorant of.” She felt it was imperative to understand why those who “... ran counter to her intellectual bent” felt the way they did.
On many occasions, I saw her soften and sometimes even change her position when listening to someone else opine on a critical issue. Occasionally she would call me and insist I turn on the TV, read this article or watch that show because she felt it was important for me to be informed.
Today, “informed” has become a vague term, open to interpretation by whomever you may be speaking with. When your information isn't homogenous with another's opinion, it is suspect and labeled as “fake news.” The days of being able to watch your nightly news, pick up the morning paper and trust the information you are getting are gone.
It is commonplace that we pick and choose the information that suits us, and concurrently close ourselves off to (or outright deny) information that suggests a differing point of view or opinion.
Mom said, “You can't occupy the moral high ground unless you have a map of the low ground.” She was hungry for information, and would research, read and – when the internet came around – Google her hot topic of the day. It was important to her that her opinions were backed by truth, information and that she had a full understanding from both, or in some cases all, sides of any contested issue.
Unfortunately, we have (to quote her 1991 letter) “become so thin-skinned that we can't tolerate or expose ourselves to an unpopular idea.” We are “... too lazy to pick up a pen and say, 'I read what you said. I disagree. Here's why...'.” Perhaps she is also correct in that we do “... deserve a society where others do our thinking for us.”
Mom was prophetic in her words then, and they sting a bit when you read them now, don't they?
I have personally been as popular as “Saddam Hussein at an American Legion Fish Fry” (mom again) for no other reason than expressing my opinion on my Facebook page. I have been unfollowed, unfriended or blocked. I'm sure there's a slew of folks “taking a break” from me as we speak. I think mom would be proud.
I will continue to seek information, and I will continue to keep my mind open to the opinions of others. I will do that whether or not that is reciprocated. I will enjoy the “cathartic option” of telling others exactly what I think, but more importantly, I will listen to what they have to say.
Perhaps if more of us disagreed – but didn't close our minds – we could find a way through this Dumpster fire together.
Jen Jonasch is a Fort Wayne resident.