A really interesting email landed in my inbox this week.
It came from someone who described themselves as a long time follower of my Tweets and reader of my blog. They said something that caught me a bit off guard:
“I want you to know that your Tweets about things like our current President’s policies and your posts about climate change or how transgender students and Muslims are becoming targets make me feel really uncomfortable. I wish you’d just stick to sharing things that I can use in my classroom rather than sharing things that hint at your political viewpoints.”
I wasn’t TOO surprised to hear those thoughts. In fact, I’ve had two other really close friends tell me that they thought I was making a mistake by tackling “those kind of issues” in my Tweets and my blog entries. Both agreed that my posts were powerful and important and well-reasoned — but both also told me that I’d have WAY better luck with building an audience and finding potential consulting clients if I avoided anything that could be perceived as controversial.
And I really DO write a lot about topics that can be perceived as controversial.
Here’s the posts the author of the email that sparked this bit is talking about:
As I tried to figure out how to reply to the email, a thousand different thoughts ran through my head.
For me, writing about controversial issues is, in many ways, a professional obligation. We DO have gay and Muslim and transgender kids in our classrooms and we DO live in a world where those kids are being bombarded by messages that they aren’t the equals of people who lead lives that fit into more traditional norms and social expectations. By speaking out, I’m hoping to give language to every teacher and voice to EVERY kid. And if you can’t get behind the notion that EVERY kid — especially those from groups that are being actively marginalized by our society — deserves to hear their teachers speaking out on their behalf, I’m not sure that we will ever be able to get along.
I also thought about the fact that everything that I write and share on this blog and in my Twitterstream is for ME.
I’m jazzed that other people learn from me and find the content that I share to be useful and helpful and energizing — but that’s not my primary goal. My primary goal is to reflect — and reflection is personal. My buddies are right: If I’m trying to build a client base or a bigger audience, then I’d be far more filtered about what I share with you. The needs and interests of my audience would take precedence over my own needs and interests. But I’m not trying to use this space to build a client base or a bigger overall audience. I’m using this space to wrestle with ideas that move me.
What does that mean for the people who DO follow me? You’ve got a decision to make: If reading posts every now and then about climate science or institutional racism or the responsibilities that teachers have to gay and transgender students rubs you the wrong way, mash the “unfollow” button.
That’s the beauty of the world we live in. You really CAN personalize the streams of information that are coming at you. You really CAN filter out voices that bother you.
What you CAN’T do is control the content and/or ideas being shared by individual authors. The power that creators have is choice over what they share. The power that followers have is choice over who they follow. As a creator, I’m comfortable with what I’m sharing because it moves ME deeply and that’s my goal for participating in these spaces. If people decide to walk away from the content that I’m sharing because they don’t see value or purpose in it, I won’t be hurt. That’s how information streams work in today’s day and age.
My final reply, though, took a different tack. I decided to nudge my reader around the idea of “feeling comfortable.” Here’s what I wrote:
So I’ve been thinking a lot about your email today and I want to push you for a minute. You mentioned that my posts lately have made you feel uncomfortable.
Isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t the best learning and thinking and reflection happen when we feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that why we try to push kids “out of their comfort zones?”
I get that sometimes my posts don’t solve an immediate problem for you. I hear you when you say that what you most want out of your learning spaces are materials and/or ideas that you can implement tomorrow. And if that’s your only goal, I’m probably not the right guy to follow.
But I’d encourage you to stick around and get comfortable being uncomfortable! While it’s POSSIBLE to surround ourselves with friendly ideas that fix problems, I’m not sure that it’s intellectually healthy to do so. Growth comes when we are forced to wrestle with ideas that we don’t agree with. That’s impossible to do when we filter sources of discomfort straight out of our information streams.
So what about YOUR information streams? Do they ever make you feel uncomfortable?
I’d argue that you are missing out if they don’t.
Related Radical Reads: