My favourite thing to do on a Thursday afternoon is to read the local paper and check out the weekly grocery flyers that come with it.  The previous sentence could have easily been written by my mother, but it was in fact me, and I don’t begrudge inheriting this rather enjoyable past time. My number one interest is looking for deals in the weekly flyers, and secondly I like to see what my local community is talking about in the editorial section of the paper.

Last Thursday (Apr. 15) I was taken aback by an editorial and it enraged me so much that I wrote a rebuttal letter.  I wish I could say that the process was as easy as “I was mad, I wrote a letter, I sent it in”.  Far from it.  I spent countless hours over far too many days this week trying to find the right words that would adequately express my thoughts, feelings, and level of outrage.  I was also struggling with the confidence of expressing my opinion, and of letting my community know who I was and what I believed.

So what made me so mad?  Someone expressed that this society no longer has the values of yesteryear, with the main argument being that not enough people celebrated Easter properly this year.  The letter didn’t say anything specific, but made a number of statements that seemed to imply a lack of tolerance for other people and their beliefs.  As someone whose belief system mainly surrounds not caring what anyone else does (so long as they aren’t causing other people to suffer), I was completely offended that someone thought it was okay to write into the paper and tell me what to do.  For the sake of flow, from here on out I am going to refer to this letter as the ‘April 15 Letter’.

My first reaction to the April 15 Letter caused me to write a very incendiary rebuttal that put words in the author’s mouth and was very much a full out attack.  I spouted everything from accusing him of hating women, gays, and other races, to accusing him of supporting fascism.  I admit it, I was extreme, but it was just the rage talking.  The roots of rational discourse had not yet begun to sprout in my head.  This very incendiary first response taught me a very important lesson in writing: never get too attached to the first draft.  Which reminds me of an amazing quote the writer/director of Toy Story said about his own movies:

''Every Pixar movie at one time was the worst motion picture ever made.'' - John Lasseter.

This reinforces the idea that having a good editor is crucial to the writing process.  I have several editors in my life, including myself, and for this exercise, John helped rein me in to actually write something more than just an incendiary attack.  I wrote my first draft on Friday, my final draft didn’t fully appear until Monday night, and I didn’t even send it to the paper until Tuesday. It all seems like a blur now, but I really struggled to find the right words, argue my points on solid ground, and express what I actually meant.

Beyond expressing myself properly, I also had to combat my own psychology when it comes to saying opinions out loud.  I have strong opinions but I can be guarded and hesitant when it comes to conflict; don’t rock the boat.  So not only did I feel l was fighting someone who I thought was trampling my beliefs, I was also fighting with myself on whether I should be fighting at all.  Would the community judge my letter?  Would I just be seen as attacking someone?  Would anyone agree with me?  I was unaware of my audience and that helped fuel the fires of my paranoia over how my letter would come across and what kind of conflict I would face for submitting it.  Who knew that simply writing a letter to the editor would turn into a week of learning how to express myself and face my fear of “putting it out there”? 

It took all weekend and most of Monday, but finally I felt confident in a letter that I would submit to the paper.  The final draft of my letter still had a lot of fire in it as I attempted to dismantle the author’s statements and expose the flaws in how he had stated them (the guy relied heavily on rhetoric).  Although I was proud of my letter and it said what I needed it to, I could never really get away from feeling like I was just fighting with the author, when really I just wanted to express, “hey man, don’t tread on me.”  My letter would have taken much less time to write if I had said only that!

I submitted my letter on Tuesday, the same day the Tuesday edition of the paper printed a rebuttal letter from another reader.  The rebuttal letter was great and I feel it expressed an opposing opinion of the April 15 Letter, but wasn’t a direct attack on the author.  Something I will definitely learn from.  The rebuttal was basically to the tune of to each their own and thank goodness for freedom and democracy. This reader said simply what I had struggled to say and I realized that the finished content of my letter didn’t actually matter as much as what I had learned during the process of formulating my argument and rounding up the balls to send it in.  Which is mostly why I wasn’t upset or surprised when my letter wasn’t published in the Thursday edition of the paper.  It turned out that this week for me wasn’t about trying to school an old man in basic human rights, but rather learning how to express myself, both articulately and confidently.  Plus, at least someone was able to tell the old dude that we live in a democracy that celebrates diversity.  Really, somebody had to.

The printing of the other rebuttal letter also reminded me of something that I already knew: there are like-minded people here. Any paranoia or lack of confidence about expressing my opinion has to do with me and my fears, not with my audience.  Which is why yesterday, when the paper came and I was driven to write a rebuttal to something that had been said, I was able to write, edit, and submit the letter in under twenty minutes.  For the first time in a long time, writing felt easy. This week of process, though incredibly hard and tedious at some points, actually taught me important lessons in writing, expression, and confidence, for which I am tremendously grateful.

Posted by Jen B On Friday, April 23, 2010 2 comments


  1. that's awesome, JL. Congratulations on being able to learn those things about yourself. I still haven't told anyone I even HAVE a blog, for exactly that reason; fear of putting it out there.
    Here's to a future full of articulate rebuttals! :)

  2. Thanks buddy! I did learn things and I am putting them into practice. It is definitely hard. Fear of putting it out there is still very powerful. I had no problem posting my blog, but I definitely had a delay in posting it to Facebook... because people might actually read it. Oh no! I don't know why that is scary but it is. This blog post felt really personal too, so I had extra scary feelings. Thanks for your support and I hope to write a lot more rebuttals for the paper!!


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