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The Good Life: Our most precious right, gagged
September 14, 2012 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
Freedom. What does it mean to you? Iíve been contemplating this word ever since I had a conversation with an area businessman last week who took the time to write me an email about his views on a recent column by Doug Harris about Ayn Rand. I stopped by his place of business to discuss the letter with this occasional advertiser. He is someone I consider to be a friend. During the conversation, I asked him whether I could print the email as a letter to the editor so that others might be prompted to consider his point of view and perhaps start a discussion. I knew the answer before I asked the question.

The answer was sadly, no. The reason? This business owner felt that to express his views was too much of a risk to his livelihood. I canít blame him for feeling this way, especially in the current climate of divisive politics.

I recently read with interest a story online about how the Floridian owner of a pizza parlor that gave President Obama a bear hug which was captured in a photo that went viral on the Internet, now has a large number of negative reviews of his restaurant at the online review site, Yelp.

It seems that while the pizza owner, who is also a local philanthropist, identifies himself as a Republican, he has now been labeled as a ďtraitor.Ē It has even been suggested that his good works are now null and void because of his ďcommunistĒ behavior in hugging the president.

I miss the days when all Americans were taught to respect the person sitting in the Oval office, regardless of the politics. I remember being taught that holding the office of President of the United States was the most difficult job in the world, and as such, even though we may not always agree with our presidentís decisions, we must always respect the person in the office and pray for their success, wisdom and leadership. Even the Bible tells us that we should pray for our leaders.

What has happened to America? It seems as though we have embraced hatred on so many levels. The lack of respect for others who are different from us is astounding. What does freedom actually mean in a society where business owners are afraid to write a letter to the editor about something they feel strongly about?

While some may disagree with me, I believe that a strong opinion is a good thing to express. For a newspaper, disagreement with our editorial pieces and opinion columns can be seen as a good thing. We hope that often our readers agree with us too, but itís a commonly held belief in the newspaper industry that if you are making everyone happy all the time, youíre doing something wrong. Strong opinions foster discussion among our readership and the community at large. What is so wrong with people discussing something, even or perhaps especially when they disagree with each other?

America has lost the art of discussion. We close our ears and our hearts to what the other person is saying and merely wait for the coming pause so that we can make our next statement to the contrary. Everything is a debate today, with no one actually listening to the dissenting view and sincerely considering it. Who wants to have a conversation with people who will only agree with you? Itís a bore and little can be learned from such conversations. They usually turn into something negative, such as ridiculing the opposing view point and the people who hold it. The easiest way to discount someone is to call them evil or stupid. Then no one has to consider what they have to say, because clearly they are evil and stupid. How lazy.

This fear of being ourselves, of letting our true opinions be known is probably justified in our current climate; however, this fear is an enemy to our society and to our freedom. It is just this type of fear that prevents the smartest, most qualified people in our own community from running for local offices. I have had countless conversations with area residents in Gering and Scottsbluff about what is needed in our community. Many people have strong feelings about the decisions being made by local governments and many also have great ideas to propose that would possibly solve some of our problems. Yet when asked if they would consider running for city council, the answer is always no. And the reason they give is always related to their position in our community, and a fear that they would lose that position should they enter the ring of public discourse and participate actively in government.

Is this what freedom means to you? It certainly isnít what freedom means to me. I dream of a place where perspectives are respected whether we agree with them or not. I dream of a place where we can see each other as brothers and sisters and people that we should care about, even if we donít understand them. I dream of a place where we encourage new businesses to join our community, even if they will bring in higher wages that force existing businesses to compete for workers with better wages, because it is right and good for the community.

Decisions are being made every day in small rooms of this community that affect us all, and those who are not involved in government but who would bring much to the table are afraid to jump into the ring for fear that the repercussions of their honesty will destroy their lives. Thatís the truth, folks. How do you feel about that? And if you are shocked, dismayed and worried about this sad trend, what do you think we should do about it?

Letters to the editor are welcome, if you dare.
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