A Third Place
Freedom of speech. How we love our right to speak in this country! In America, you can pretty much say whatever you please, whenever you please, wherever you please. It doesn’t have to be nice. It doesn’t have to be helpful. It doesn’t even have to be true. Regardless, as an American you have the right to speak.
Last week I published a blog post entitled “Unfiltered.” It was about my experience of losing my “nice” filter which allowed me to speak up, to speak my mind openly, even when I knew that what I had to say wouldn’t be popular with some of those who heard. It was so freeing to discover that I really didn’t have to smile and nod pleasantly while remaining silent. I didn’t have to swallow my words. My words matter just as much as anyone else’s and I can use them. I felt . . . powerful.
Right about the time I was writing that blog post and reveling in this newfound personal power, a group of protesters scaled the walls of the American Embassy in Egypt, replacing the American flag with the flag of Islam. Just a day later, the American ambassador to Libya, three other American diplomats, and ten of the Libyans who were trying to protect them were all killed in another protest. With each day that passes, more protests are reported across the Middle East and Northern Africa. Why? Because of what someone said.
Well, it was more than just what they said. It was what they portrayed in a video trailer posted to YouTube. An Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California posted the trailer to YouTube of the movie, Innocence of Muslims – an amateur, yet highly offensive portrayal of Mohammed. With over 10 million views worldwide, this 14 minute clip incited protests, violence, and even murder around the globe.
I find it ironic that in the same week I embraced the power of my voice, speaking up in defense of particular individuals and ideals with barely a whisper of results other than in my own heart, another used the power of his voice to speak with bigotry, disrespect, and hatred with globe-shattering results. I find it frustrating that so many of the voices we hear incite hatred, division, and prejudice. If you listen, you would believe that there are only two places you may belong in this world – either you are “us” or you are “them.” (This could be Republican or Democrat; male or female; gay or straight; conservative or progressive; Christian or Muslim; Tiger or Gamecock; and probably even “tomato” or “to-mah-to.”) Since “us” and “them” hate each other so much, it is hard to find any other alternative anywhere between the two.
Just as I was beginning to despair, I ran across these pictures online.
I wondered whether the pictures were orchestrated, then realized that even if they were it didn’t matter. The pictures show us a third way, a third place where we may choose to dwell. It is the place where people don’t buy into what the loudest voices are saying. It is the place where people look at one another and see more of what we have in common than what we have that separates us. It is the place where individual voices speak up – not the voices of a particular party, or a particular religion, or a particular prejudice – but real people who refuse to let others speak for them, who refuse to let others steal the power of their voice.
Yes, loud voices incite anger and stir up mobs of people who will not or cannot think for themselves. Loud voices give puppet people lines to repeat so that others will look at them and think they are informed, thinking individuals. Loud voices dominate the airwaves. But loud voices do not have to win.
You have a voice. I have a voice. We don’t have to choose to dwell with “us” or with “them.” There is a third place for us – a place where together we can make a difference. There is power in our voices. Let’s use our power for good.