He’s back

Posted 5/7/10

What should you do when you have a strong response to something you read in the paper? Let's say you like a particular column. You can pen an …

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He’s back


What should you do when you have a strong response to something you read in the paper?

Let's say you like a particular column. You can pen an approving letter to the editor, or send a glowing e-mail or voice mail to the writer. It is pleasant to find people with whom one agrees. Too few of us take the time to compliment others, and thereby build communities of interest and mutual support.

Not the writing kind? Well, you can always clip the column and pass it around to friends. Or find it online and forward it. On the other hand, maybe you think the writer missed something important, or was flat out wrong. Maybe you have some special area of expertise that fills in significant gaps in the writer's presentation.

In that case, please do send a letter to the editor. When the community gets involved in issues, shares new information, and has substantive debate, a newspaper raises the general level of shared intelligence. That's good for everybody.

Sometimes, inevitably, you will have a strongly emotional and negative response to a column.

Here, too, you have many options. Among them:

you can ignore it. I freely admit that there are a few columnists who so consistently irritate me that I refuse to read them anymore.

you can share your anger and irritation with your spouse. A sympathetic marriage prevents many a violent outbreak against the body politic.

you can write an angry letter back, laced with personal attacks and labels you neither define nor defend. In this way, letter writing becomes a kind of intellectual aerobics, allowing you to hit your target heart rate in just 250 words. Be warned: your own letters may precipitate similar responses. But for some folks, this is the very definition of fun.

you can seek to silence the writer through intimidation. Contact his or her bosses and threaten them with boycott or political opposition. Dangle vague legal threats. The true intellectual bully must hold this thought steady in his or her heart: "those who disagree with me must be forced to SHUT UP."

Each of these responses has a long tradition in our country. Together, they constitute a history of dissent, of the lively intellectual discourse of our nation.

Which brings me (quite literally) to the editorial page. Most of my columns over the past 20 years have been about libraries. That's because libraries are my deep and abiding passion. Most of my future columns will probably still be about library issues.

But writing this column isn't part of my job. I don't get paid for it. I write it on my own time. Writing helps me think and learn. I enjoy it.

About once or twice a year, my columns spark strong disagreement in some readers — usually offset by strong approval, by the way. I've noticed a trend: in almost every case, the flashpoint issue involves federal policy.

I am not a federal employee.

Likewise, most of my opinions are not library policy. My bosses, the Library Board of Trustees, have not adopted resolutions about either national fiscal policy nor zombies. (Which is the greater omission, only time will tell.) When something is official library policy, I'll say so.

In a recent discussion about my column, library trustees said that while of course I have the right to speak freely on my own time — that being the point of the First Amendment, after all — it would be wise to remind people that my opinions, as prominently labeled by my column title, are LaRue's Views. No one else should be held accountable for them. So you will no longer find my opinions under "library news."

See you next week.

LaRue's Views are his own.


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