Comments deserve a discussion, not hatred

The Daily Progress
April 04, 2012

Everybody has a right to an opinion.

Especially when that opinion involves a legitimate community issue.

Charlottesville Councilor Kristin Szakos has been subjected to vicious criticism since she asked, at a Virginia Festival of the Book discussion session with a Civil War historian, whether Charlottesville’s Confederate-related statues should be “torn down” or “balanced out.”

For the record, let us repeat: This newspaper opposes tearing down the monuments recognizing Confederate personages — one of which has the distinction of being regarded as one of the country’s finest equestrian statues.

But we also oppose, vehemently, the offensive, unwarranted treatment that has been handed out to Ms. Szakos and her family as a result of her comment.

At this week’s City Council meeting, she reported that one detractor called her home and said the following to one of her children: “Tell your mother that she’s a F’in whore and to get her F’in hands off our heritage.”

There is no excuse for this. Absolutely none.

This sort of personal attack, against an innocent child no less, suggests that the attacker can neither explain, defend nor justify his opinion and has nothing left to rely on except emotion in the form of hatred and anger.

Apart from the moral issue regarding personal attacks, there is a practical one: Those kinds of emotions, and that kind of behavior, are counterproductive. Instead of winning converts to the cause, they turn people away in disgust.

If such emotions and such behavior are perceived to represent the pro-monument position, then many fair-minded people will reject that position.

Ms. Szakos reported just such a reaction from someone who originally had gone online to comment in support of the monuments but who, when he saw the venom being spewed there, decided that perhaps they should be “torn down” from their current prominent sites and moved to a different location.

Should they?

That is one opinion.

Opinion deserves to be expressed, as does any debate that flows from it.

But again, let us make clear: It is reasoned debate that is needed, not mindless rants and verbal garbage.

How else but through reasoned debate can a civilized community deal with controversy?

The Founding Fathers believed in this principle. They built a new country on the belief that debate clears the path to the truth.

Thomas Cooper, one of Thomas Jefferson’s most esteemed colleagues, the man he appointed as one of the University of Virginia’s first professors, put it this way: “… [N]othing can bring the good to light, or expose the evil, but full and free discussion.”

Personal attacks are the antithesis of this. Personal attacks inhibit free discussion — if not kill it outright.

Personal attacks are wrong. They are wrong. They are wrong.

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