Sunday, 4 August 2013

There may or there may not be " #twittersilence "

I am writing this very early on a Sunday morning. I am sure if people Google "twitter silence" they will find plenty of references to those who are the victims of those who abuse others in on-line social media sites - and elsewhere.
I know something about this. I am a fairly regular correspondent to the "Letters to the Editor" page of our state newspaper. I have also written other letters for other papers or which have appeared in other papers.
Writing letters to the paper is an occupation that can lead to abuse too. I am not talking about the sort of criticism which other letters write in response to something an individual has written. That is an occupational hazard which has to be accepted. I have seen very little of that. I imagine that anything truly abusive would be binned by the paper.
But, it is not hard to find a letter writer if you really want to do it. There are telephone books, online searches, the electoral register and other sources.
I don't aim to be particularly controversial when I write a letter to the editor. I will sometimes do it to add facts to a skimpy article, provide an alternative argument, raise a question or suggest a solution. I do not even necessarily agree with the point I am making. I will raise it to try and raise awareness - and ask people to think about alternatives. Perhaps these are not good reasons for writing. I don't know - but the paper seems to like the letters enough to use them more often than not. (And, if they don't use it, then my words have been known to have been "borrowed" for the editorial.)
All of that is, I believe, reasonable enough but there are people who take exception. I have had my share of abusive 'phone calls and letters from people who don't like what I have said - or what they think I have said. The reading comprehension skills of some people are minimal, especially if they have a fixed point of view and think someone else is disagreeing with it.  I am polite but I end the phone conversation quickly - and always if someone does not give their name. I bin the letters.
Getting shouted at in the aisles of the local supermarket is a little more awkward but it has happened. One of the staff once asked a man to leave. He was getting very upset - not just at me but at someone who had written another letter about the same topic. Oddly the views in the two letters diverged but he managed to be upset with both of us.
And then there was what I still think of as "The Visit". I was peacefully minding my own business one Sunday morning - washing the kitchen floor.  There was a hefty knock at the front door and I wondered if there was something wrong. I answered it. There were two men there. They were representatives of the state's umbrella union movement. They had come to tell me that I had to cease writing letters to the paper that criticised unions. I had written just one such letter. I know I had spent more time than I usually do on that letter. I had been very careful. I could back up every point I had made. I knew the letters editor would have double checked. 
The two men made it very clear they did not like it. I was threatened with unspecified action if I did it again. A demand was made that I retract at least one statement. I refused. (The paper would not have printed it anyway.) I also refused to be intimidated. I told them they were trespassing. I told them to leave or I would call the police and have them removed - and I meant it. I was angry and I was frightened.
I admit that, for some months afterwards, I was genuinely worried about my own safety. That right was on my side was totally beside the point. The men who came to visit me were thugs and bullies. They were also cowards. If it had been possible to refute what I had said they could have written a letter. It would have been printed. 
There are many ways of answering such people. I did not attempt to argue the point with them. It would have been to no purpose. Telling them to leave was well within my rights, indeed it was my responsibility to do so.
But, after that, it was better to maintain silence. Months later I was able to legitimately write another letter in which I mentioned "The Visit". It was printed and I wondered if it would result in another visit but nothing happened.
There are times to speak and times to say nothing - so that, at sometime in the future, we can speak again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Some bullies never grow up ... and make a career out of it, and all too often there is a union involved.