Has this ever happened to you? You felt like posting a controversial opinion online, but feared the fallout from your followers. You could’ve let the whole thing go, but you wanted to say something, so you came at it from an awkward angle. You chose to be confusing instead of controversial. The greater your social media presence, the more eyes of judgement are upon you, so you vague-booked. You blogged ambiguously. You committed crimes against clarity. You reached out with oven mitts on, because you were afraid of getting burned.
I’m just as guilty of these lies of omission. This is my confession.
I Wrote A Bad Article
I had a sensational headline with a hook that guaranteed it would go viral, but for all my promises of heated debate, I’d written a tepid article. Expecting their triggers to be set off, the reader would find themselves shrugging. For all my big bold print and explanation points, my title was misleading. It was edgy in tone, but not in content. Rather than go to bat for my cause, I played it safe. Rather than tip the scales, I barely weighed in on the subject.
In my mind, coworkers were reading over my shoulder. Dating prospects were crossing me off lists. Relatives were filling up on conversations for next Thanksgiving. I saw my social media followers scattering. This wasn’t my usual platitudes with attitude. It wasn’t inspiring, it was alienating. I found myself revising more than I was writing.
My literary voice cracked. My writing persona got stage fright. I bit my tongue, I choked on it. I wasn’t about to showcase my untested material. I wasn’t about to go dropping any microphones.
Afraid to let my controversial idea slip, I reported the controversy. Sighting polarizing extremes, I said there were two sides to every story. Then I implied they both had equal validity. I was a shepherd, shaming my readers toward the center. I walked my flock down the middle of the road, because I thought it was safer there.
It turned out my muse had centrist views.
My position didn’t support the facts. My neutrality was a non-reality. I tiptoed around the issue, and lied about the topography. I built a straw man, not to misrepresent the opposition, but to obscure their identity. Careful not to name names, I went after their behavior, and ignored the cause of it. I condemned easy targets like I was the only one brave enough to do it. I was a voice in a choir of condescension, pretending to be the most outspoken. Meanwhile, a grave injustice passed by unchallenged.
I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t the message that mattered, it was the wordplay. My readers wanted wit, not truth in jest. Piling on pointless alliteration, I spruced up the form to conceal the function. I turned prose into poetry. I distorted a clear picture into an abstract painting.
Rather than acknowledge the opposition’s argument, I addressed the logical fallacies in how they presented it. I didn’t go high or low, I took the off road. I sidestepped the issue. Rather than attack a dangerous claim, I lashed out at how it was said, putting semantics before substance. My fallacy was thinking that pointing out the opposition’s deceptions proved them wrong.
I was afraid to make a statement until the court of popular opinion had rendered a verdict. I wanted to take a stand, but I was afraid I’d be crushed beneath the bandwagon. Those big wheels keep on turning. They have to pass before Captain Hindsight can say something.
As I typed, I saw the rebuttal editorials forming. I saw the trolls frothing. I didn’t feel like curating the comment section. I didn’t feel like I owed everyone an explanation. I wanted to speak my piece, not have a conversation.
I saw myself seated at the misfit table at the next wedding. I saw my classmates avoiding me at the next reunion. I saw future in-laws, armed with confrontation ammunition.
While other causes are finally coming out of the closet, my lobby isn’t exactly making a lot of friends. Our delegates come across as elitists. They’re not winning hearts and minds so much as getting the rest of us condemned. When speakers list different groups to celebrate a diversity of opinion, we’re rarely mentioned.
I couldn’t find a mouthpiece to hide behind, a source to quote that said exactly what I was thinking. So I laundered my opinion through a complicated analogy, hoping that no one would see my words for the story. Afraid to talk politics and religion at the dinner table, I peppered them into a different conversation. I made ambiguous allusions, so I could get off on a technicality. I made noncommittal statements in case I needed to shrug off my beliefs.
I wrote a bad article. It compromised the truth in the interest of fairness. It compromised my journalistic etiquette by being politically correct. It committed a wrong by not fully addressing another wrong. It omitted evidence in the interest of balance. It looked down on the reader from the middle ground. It turns out the half way point between the truth and a lie, is still a lie.
I’m a liar liar, and I burn my pants in penance.