The Freedom To Ignore

By: Monica Wilcox

Now that the riots have tempered down in the Middle East and the offender ran off to hide in his hole, Iíd like to cautiously offer a line of communication. Weíve come to a point of mutual misunderstanding between our societies. You canít understand how we can allow anyone to smear the name of a prophet; we donít understand how one manís rhetoric justifies murder and mayhem.

Consider the History

Weíve had 236 years to understand what it means to live as a vocal society. Our nation was born on the backs of Englandís radicals. Their offspring were the ones who dared to fight for the independence of our country. Sometimes the radicals change history for the better and sometimes theyíre nothing more than crazy-house-crazy.

Billy the Kid, the KKK, the Black Panthers: American history has always, always, been peppered with those who like to sizzle over the edge of the status quo. Weíre currently dealing with the compound cults, the bunker hunkers and the clinic bombers and trust me; theyíve all got something to share.

Does the notion of giving a radical a voice scare you? Are you afraid that their wrong will somehow become your right? It does happen after all.

Back in 1848 a group of women started spouting that ďliberty and rights for allĒ included them. There they were, out on the pavement, waving their signs, yelling all sorts of demands. The government locked them up, abused them and still they would not shut up. But then people started to listen and agree, more women joined in, men joined in. Momentum changed, their rhetoric became the acceptable and now the notion of women voting is so common place a large percentage of us donít even bother to do so.

The same process happened in 1962 with Rachel Carson who wrote a little book.†Silent Spring was anything but silent. Sheís directly responsible for the recycle bins in my kitchen and the solar panels on my house.

Yes, sometimes a single person with a radical notion can shift the norm of a society. I can see how that scares the hell out of you because it can still scare us. Itís not always clear when youíre dealing with a radical like Martin Luther King or a radical like Hitler. Both convinced their societies that they were in the right.

What I donít think you understand yet, because you havenít had as much time to experience this democracy thing, is that when you gift everyone an equal voice you light up the entire spectrum of the human experience. It opens the doors of opportunity and forces us to ask, ďHow are we going to evolve?Ē It provides a confidence that out of all the opinions, the best choice will be found.

Why do we give everyone a stage (even if it is a street corner)? Because it empowers brave souls to shine a light in dark places as they search for injustice. As many times as a single voice has altered our society there were an equal number of times we should have listened to the street preachers instead of walking by (the leper colonies, the Japanese internment camps).

Yes, this means some dude is going to stand on his cooler in front of the city animal shelter screaming that puppies are the embodiment of the devil and should be grilled up and served to cats. But that same freedom offers someone else a step in front of city hall to ask why we are not doing more for our returning servicemen. Yes, this offers one person a video camera to smear God. But it also allows another person to video tape dolphins being slaughtered in a bay, and poultry farms where chickens never see the sun, and school systems suffering under tenured teachers.

Donít Buy the Book

Thereís another freedom weíve clung to over the last few centuries in this democracy. It hasnít been declared, no one gave their John Hancock to legitimize it, but this freedom has as much value as any other: the freedom to ignore. If you donít like what someone has to say, donít buy their book. Keep on walking. Change the station. Toss out the paper. Block their Facebook feed.

The balance between knowing when to react and when to ignore is something that each individual has to discover and gauge for themselves. Thereís a fine line between listening, arguing, protesting and flat out ignoring someone. With todayís technology we are constantly relearning where these lines are. Democracy isnít the stone statues decorating the Washington lawn, itís a morphing organism.

Every time I write an article, every time I get on social media Iím balancing my freedom to speak against my freedom to ignore. If you want to see the full spectrum of human experience, check out my Facebook feed. Iíve got a Democrat yelping, followed by an image of a naked woman, followed by a feminist imploring liberty, followed by a Republican rant. Have I become desensitized to all this social ranting? Yes, to some degree. Why? Because I canít become emotionally charged over one personís perspective. If I burned down a building and killed a handful of people every time someone offended me, San Francisco would look like a war zone.

There is a time to argue, there is a time to protest and then thereís a time to walk on by. Nothing can be more disempowering than to be ignored. I suggest, the next time someone paints their opinion over Mohammadís image, that you give it a try. Allow their narrow minded negativity to be smothered beneath the voices of those who love and respect your truth.

Of course, that would be my opinion.



Ajla C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Monica Wilcox
Monica Wilcox5 years ago

Thank you for your thoughts and perspective. I chose not to ignore a single one of them.

May I add that I agree 236 years is not long enough to have this democracy/freedom of speech thing perfected, it will never be perfect, but we have certainly been experimenting with it longer than most. Research has shown that we learn to ignore by the age of 2 and it's an ability, I believe, we continue to perfect as we grow older. Yes, there are times when we should speak up and then there are times when we should blow it off. Deciding which choice is appropriate is a personal decision.

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


sr G.
stacey groves5 years ago

Caroline, the point of this post is that just because thousands (millions) of people have died and suffered doesn't mean that MORE PEOPLE must suffer and die! THAT is what "progress and civilization" is about, learning that people who seem different from you and yours are still, in the end, just people. This is what tolerance teaches us. This is what we ALL need to learn.

Marianne B.
Marianne B5 years ago

I guess this is why I ignore most of the email I get.or a rude remark by a driver..or a stranger (making light of a serious subject.)

Rachel R.
Rachel R5 years ago

I think the best analysis I've read of this situation is that, as is usually the case in similar situations, someone had something to gain. In this case the salafists had something to gain by whipping up anti-American sentiment. Sometimes it is the neo-cons who have something to gain by whipping up the tea-partiers, and so on. I find some aspects of this article deeply problematic, but I agree with the basic sentiment. People need to think for themselves and seek their own information. Of course that is easier in some places than others, but not assuming that others are evil bigots is also a good start.

michael m.
Mike m5 years ago

Beautiful essay, Monica!

Caroline W.
Caroline Walcot5 years ago

Oh dear, Monica, 236 years isn't really long enough for your society to learn certain bitter truths via a multitude of mistakes whereby tens of thousands have suffered and died! The biggest mistake you make is to imagine that the freedom of speech you want to have in your backyard will go unnoticed in the rest of the world. How can it? For that to happen, you have to delete Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the whole Internet, global TV and radio.Oh, and forbid all newspapers from being sold abroad.

As long as the anti-Mohammed sentiments in that silly crude film made under American protection had been confined to a few local showings, no harm had been emerged into public notice. But some nasty person then put it on YouTube. Then it went viral. Then the riots happened and then people got killed.
I'm sorry you care so little about the lives that were lost. You didn't know them, but they didn't deserve to lose their lives in the name of American views on free speech. Some of the dead were shopowners, bystanders, innocent people caught up.

You can rant and rave and say anything you like about the economy, politics, climate change, animals, etc and nobody will die. But any study of world history books would tell you that religion, expecially other people's, should be left strictly alone. Look up the Spanish inquisition, the Huguenots, pogroms, the Holocaust,etc - they didn't happen on American soil but in old Europe, and it was from that bad old Europe that people escaped to th

Alicia N.
Alicia N5 years ago


Paula G.
Paula G5 years ago

Interesting points. at the same time people can do small but significant things that can offset the Archie Bunkers (or in today's society Homer Simpsons) of this world. There is a booik I am reading that is called The Tipping Point. A good read. We just saw the story of Mr. Ghandi a few days ago. We don't have to throw stones to smash down a wall of opposition.