I received a voicemail in my inbox after hours on Friday night.
The reader, who left neither name nor number (not that I would put that information on blast anyway), took issue with a recent letter to the editor condemning the actions of the Catholic and Protestant churches for their role in the Canadian residental school system. To paraphrase, the reader found the opinion of the letter writer to be unbelievable, nonsensical and bigoted, saying the writer was “smearing an entire group because of the sins of a few people.”
For a number of reasons, I don’t feel qualified to tackle the subject matter, but I will say this. The thoughts of the caller are a valid opinion and they are free to express that however they wish, even if it’s just an anonymous voicemail.
While the letter in question may have had some controversial phrasology and some may object to certain points or reject it altogether, I am not ashamed to say the opinion of the letter writer is just as valid as that of the caller.
The fact that this opinion is published does not mean The Observer, Black Press or I personally endorse these opinions. This isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve published a few letters and guest columns in my time I don’t fully agree with. If I published only what I wanted to talk about or agreed with, the paper would probably be a few pages thinner and likely filled with a good deal of fluff content, if I’m being honest. I would not be serving the community if I failed to report hard news, and even challenging opinions have their place in an objective publication.
Our letter to the editor policy offers a wide berth for our readers to express their thoughts in a public forum, allowing them to comment on current events, community issues or to cheer or criticize public institutions, per the tradition of any newspaper part of the National News Council.
The letters section allows writers to let their voices be heard to a wider audience, and so long as they don’t stray into libelous or hate speech territory, the opinions are welcome in this place.
With that in mind, though, our letters section is put under careful consideration week after week and I’m confident in my experience as a journalist and my judgement of what is apporpriate and what is not. If I find there’s a letter I’m feeling iffy about publishing – and there have been a few recently – I’m fortunate enough to have a support system of experienced editors and publishers to offer guidance during times I need a fresh eye.
Soemtimes the opinions and stories that come through our publication challenge us, and it’s okay. It’s by challenging our long-held beliefs that we can re-affirm what we stand for, make changes on multiple levels based on new information and events or dismantle what you once held dear to invite in something new.
For example, deep down, a lot of people didn’t want to believe the pandemic was happening. I know I had my days. It was this denial of reality that spawned countless conspiracy theories that myself and my colleagues, a year and some change later, still wrestle to debunk every day. Lashing out at news outlets or health authorities was a response to the pain of living in a situation people couldn’t control. Even as people banded together to bend that COVID curve, there were days we gave in to our anger and fear. We had to humble ourselves and lean on each other, on experienced, behind-the-scenes leaders thrust into the limelight, and lean on God, if you are a believer.
We’re built to resist pain and fight back, and we sometimes lash out at the wrong people as a result. That same fighting spirit, that ancient, unspoken objective to survive and thrive, however, is what gets us through the tough times. It’s only through considering new ideas and information that we become better individuals, and consequently, a hopefully better society.
In addition to keeping the powers that be accountable, the beautiful thing about the free press is it’s a forum for the free exchange of ideas. Let’s keep the conversation going – and let’s keep it civil, if you please.