A funny thing happens when a person reaches a degree of recognition and potential influence:
Some people tell them to shut up.
Rick Steves (I assume you know who he is) is world-famous. He’s also very outspoken on his political beliefs. And every time he talks politics, some people tell him: “Rick, stick to travel.” In fact, he just posted about that today.
Everyone who intentionally has a public persona at some point has to make a decision: Do I stick to (travel, writing books, singing, acting, whatever)? Or do I voice my opinion when I’m feeling compelled to do so?
While I would hardly say I have any public recognition at this point, I definitely, consciously thought about this. I have beliefs that on occasion might conflict with others’ beliefs. Do I stay safe in an inoffensive bubble, saying nothing? Or do I risk alienating some people by saying what I think?
Ultimately, for me, the answer was the latter.
My decision was based on the fact that I am a whole person; I am not my books or my writing or anything other than a human being. Therefore, I’m entitled, as anyone else is, to have an opinion. Having a public persona does not mean I have to leave all my opinions at the front door.
But I see it all the time: people telling celebrities that they are not allowed to have a voice. “Stick to travel (or acting or writing or singing or whatever).”
What they’re really saying is, “I disagree with you, and that makes me uncomfortable, so I want you to shut up.”
There’s that quote by Beatrice Evelyn Hall (often attributed to Voltaire): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
These days, we’ve become a culture of “I may not agree with what you’re saying, and if that’s the case then I have the right to insist that you not say anything at all.”
But that’s not so. Rick Steves has every right to say what he wants to say, as do I, as do you, as does your favorite celebrity with whom you disagree. Telling someone to “stick to travel” (or writing or singing or acting or whatever) is completely disrespectful of that person’s right to complete personhood, their right not to be defined by the work by which you know them.
Like the song says: Say what you want to say.
And grant others the same right as well. Even if it’s difficult. Even if you disagree. Even if it’s hard to hear or to be confronted with ideas that are different from yours. Be respectful, be honest, and be open. But let’s say what needs to be said.
Democracy is not easy. It’s messy and it’s frustrating, but it’s the best we have.
P.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!
Check out Pam’s books!
- The Universes Inside the Lighthouse—YA sci-fi adventure / first in the Balky Point Adventures
- The Wishing Rock series—women’s fiction / wit, wisdom, and recipes
- The Pam on the Map series—travelogues / wit and wanderlust