Don't do me a favor and tell me what a swell guy I am and then try to squash my freedom of expression while I'm relishing the pat on the back. I'd rather you just call me a sonovabitch and take your business elsewhere.
When we think of censorship, we think of government and big corporations. I'm telling you there are little guys out there with even less regard for our right to speak out. I got a call from a guy I used to do some work for over the course of the past 10 years or so. You can tell when someone can barely keep their attention on the small talk they begin with that the hammer is held high and out of sight. He wasn't calling to discuss anything. He was calling to pay me back for an opinion I expressed.
Right after we agreed that the skiing was finally getting pretty good, he told me that I'd always done a good job for him and he enjoyed working with me. (Uh oh.) Then he said that he was taking his business elsewhere. It was something I'd written in the paper about his employer he didn't appreciate. I was certainly entitled to my own opinion, he said, and, of course, he fully respected that, but he was just as entitled to take his business elsewhere because of it. This was about principle, nothing personal. He made this last point several times.
I'm sure he hung up and felt good about it, got everything off his chest. No dilly-dallying. He stood up for something. It takes courage to make a call like that. It's a rare quality these days: a man who's not afraid to take action, to speak his mind, to tell the truth.
My impression is less likely to be condensed on a bumper sticker. I think the fellow was letting me know he was hitting me as hard as he could with the tools available to him, in case I might not otherwise notice. It was retaliation. He did what he could to shut me up, to make me think twice about speaking out. Not least of all, he made brownie points with his boss, whom, ironically, I never heard from. Why would I? He's obviously got minions.
My idea about a real man might be more practical than satisfying. He is wiser than he is vengeful. My idea about true principle is that it isn't opportunistic. It doesn't need to be explained or employed for gain. It's more action and fewer words. If subtlety is not enough to make the point, either there is no good principle involved or the other man isn't principled enough to recognize it.
I wrote a piece about the guy's employer, who I thought was taking advantage of the town and doing a disservice to the community while dumbing down the general skiing experience. The deal already had been struck down by the Town Council, so my public commentary about it had nothing to do with its demise. It was only observation.
If I were the dictator of the village and laid down the law, I would expect retaliation. Put my castle under siege, and let loose the fusillade of burning arrows until I come around. What else could you do to counteract the edicts I could place into effect on a whim? It's not like that, though. I've got an opinion and a pen, which might be mightier than a sword, but in the hands of one man these are impotent against the free-flowing thoughts of the energized mass of a democracy.
Outrage would spur us to rally against government attempting to shut down The New York Times for an opinion it expressed. Scale this down to one man making a token threat against a single columnist in retribution for an opinion expressed in a small-town newspaper, and the intent to oppress the freedom to speak out is much more difficult to see. But it's the same thing.
I hope the person who fired me because I spoke out against his employer for a plan they came up with that I thought was bad for our community shows this column to his boss to prove he paid me back for it. I hope he gets a small bonus and maybe gets taken out to lunch for his efforts. I hope they make him employee of the month. I think he sacrificed more for it than he realizes.
Roger Marolt accepts the consequences of his speech whether he's published in the paper or spouting off around a campfire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.