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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Civil discourse across the political divide

A few years ago, in my regular Running Times column, I wrote that while I didn’t condone it, I understood how Gen. David Petraeus fell for his running partner. And I made a snarky aside about being attracted to a man until he confessed to watching Fox News. One subscriber wrote to complain that politics have no place in a running magazine. So I responded:

Dear Reader,

I’m guessing this means you’re not going to be asking me for dinner and a movie any time soon. Nonetheless, thank you for your response to my recent column.

I wish I were the kind of girl who could be attracted to a man who is unable to write a coherent sentence, who poses in front of heavy machinery, has unfortunate facial hair, says his favorite author is Ayn Rand, and is a bigoted homophobe.

And I wish that I lived in a world where all of the men I’m attracted to are drawn to short, too-skinny, bow-legged, frizzy-haired, aging women who dote on their dog, refuse to learn how to cook, and can’t abide it when students put commas and periods outside of quotation marks. If this were the case, I suspect my social life would be a lot more active.

I wish I lived in a country where there was such a thing as “politics-free zones,” where as a Jew I am not wished a Merry Christmas, where kids from other countries are not asked to pledge allegiance to our flag, where the color of your skin is insufficient reason to be stopped by the police while driving.

But I do not wish to live in a country where columnists, hired precisely because they have opinions (some of which may not be popular), are censored by editors who do not share their politics, or who worry more about the bottom line than they do about putting out a publication that sometimes asks people to think – even when the ostensible subject is something as seemingly anodyne as running. I think many people only see “politics” when they clash with what they believe. Politics, my friend, are everywhere.

What I love most about America, and I do love America and the values on which it was founded, is that censorship has no place here and that in most places a diversity of voices, even if it becomes a meaningless cacophony, is part of who we are and how we live.

We could scream at each other, or we could walk away from meaningful discourse, or you could cancel your subscription. I love that we have the luxury of options and would fight or die to preserve those freedoms. I probably won’t be dating any more Fox News watchers and you can stay away from feminist Commie-rat chicks who own too many pairs of black shoes. But I do appreciate your taking the time to write.

His response:

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. Your response below shows you to be every bit the feisty and independent woman that shines through in your writing. So dinner and a movie would be great … if I were still single. However, as things stand, my wife would likely be a tad miffed if I were to ask you to dinner and a movie, so in deference to her preference, as well as my own desire to continue in wedded bliss, I must, unfortunately, pass.

Seriously, though, you may not believe this, but I absolutely love your articles. To be able to write like that is a gift … and your written response to me below was a gift of a different sort. I consider censorship to be ugly, and I didn’t think of my email as espousing censorship, but upon re-reading it, I have to agree with you that it looks like a censorship request.

Believe me when I tell you that my goal in writing was more like expressing my strong desire that Running Times stay on-topic. But I thought about it some more. If the topic is Rachel, or anyone else writing about themselves, even in a running publication, then I’m simply asking too much.

Why should you omit pertinent information, political or not, about yourself because you might offend someone? That would not be you and that is not honest good writing. Your articles are great because you lay it all out there. You are who you are and you should be free to write about you and reveal, or not reveal, whatever you wish. No problem.

I have come to the conclusion that my email to the editor was misguided and wrong. Please accept my sincere apologies for running down the wrong trail.

Postscript: This man, who is so embarrassed by his initial letter to the editor that he can’t bear to have his name attached to even his heroic response, has been my Facebook friend for the last three years and I’ve asked him to read drafts of my work because, obviously, he’s a smart and thoughtful person.

Rachel Toor is a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of one novel and four books of nonfiction, the most recent of which is “Misunderstood: Why the Humble Rat May Be Your Best Pet Ever.” Her column, “Everything Is Copy,” appears monthly in the Monday Today section.

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