Op-Ed

A New Journey: The Free and Open Exchange of Ideas

Image: Life Hacker

Now, more than ever, the importance of a free, fair, and open press is essential to a functioning democracy. We cannot provide ammunition to anyone’s goal that is to silence a critical or free press, especially when it comes from a publication promoting itself as a magazine that is “The first social justice platform that directly caters to teens, while also addressing many significant issues that are often overlooked” and “The new cool way for teens to not only read about important news but also have their own thoughts heard loud and clear.”

Imagine my excitement when I, at the age of fourteen, was offered a position as not only a writer but the political editor at Affinity Magazine. I, of course, accepted this offer and worked very hard to perform all tasks and responsibilities to the best of my ability. Of course, I may have made mistakes here and there, missing a grammatical error or a spelling error, but who hasn’t? Either way, to say that I was jubilant about to be a part of this affiliation would be an understatement. That was until I had a disturbing interaction with the editor-in-chief, Evelyn, that deflated my idealization of their publication. Despite, conversations with two other editors and a plan to publish my article, Why I Have Recently Chosen to Disavow the Black Lives Matter Movement, I was informed directly by Evelyn that she would not publish my article. She rejected the article herself, stating that it was not my place to disavow this movement.

Believing that this was possibly the result of my also being on staff as an editor, I initially respected her opinion and asked if there could be a compromise. I asked if I could change the title and “tweak” the article so as not to vehemently “insult” anyone, although to be clear, this was never my intention. My only goal was to express my view backed by facts and encourage introspection and discussion with my peers. Nevertheless, I was told that I could not publish it as the magazine’s official stance is “anti-Zionist.” Immediately, this made me uncomfortable. Not only do I consider myself a proud Jew, but living in a region of the country where I am in a significant minority, I believe it is essential that I stand up for my beliefs. As John Milton said:

Truth Will Rise to the Top Through a Free and Open Exchange in the Marketplace of Ideas.

At first, I attempted to rationalize the decision and tried to move on, but I just could not get this uncomfortable feeling to go away. As a result of the way I was raised by my parents, and in part from the underpinnings of the tenants of my religion which promotes questioning, argument, and discussion in the context of the learning process, I attempted to find a resolution. I asked if I could submit the article under the Op-ed category, thereby, presenting the article as an editorial in opposition to the magazine’s official stance, in hopes of facilitating education and discussion. Unfortunately, this suggestion did not go anywhere. Again, it was rejected, stating that it would just not “fit the magazine.” I continued to try and make sense of this response but struggled with the internal and ethical conflict I now felt about the affiliation. I didn’t understand why it wouldn’t be published if their very own website said, “We accept all ideas!” I found this to conflict with not only many ethics that I hold for myself, but their own handbook.

My views are different from the other writers[.] I don’t know if I can write mine[.]

Okay, still write it[.]

I was now faced with an ethical struggle. I wanted to keep writing and editing, but I felt conflicted about working for a publication that did not allow for expression of all points of view. This became even more challenging as I continued to edit and publish, anti-Zionist articles. I knew that I would not be able to do this for long without another outlet where I could express my thoughts and views that differed from those of the magazine. I had been unfair to myself by putting myself in an environment where I was targeted. I wanted to stay, but I felt like I had disavowed the Black Lives Matter Movement organization, for being anti-Zionist, though I was not holding my place of work to the same standard.

At first, I was devastated, but quickly realized this conflict provided me a great opportunity. In the rejection of my article, they had actually provided me with an excellent gift. As a result, I was able to reflect on the situation and realize that there was a need for space for young adults to have an open, free, and respectful exchange of ideas. I reached out to members of my temple’s youth group to discuss the idea. We felt there was a great need for a publication like this, where different ideas and views could be published, space where all points of view on an issue could be expressed and debated.

This lead to the birth of Chai Magazine. At Chai Magazine, we do not have specific stances on issues. It is a format for the open discussion and exchange of ideas for politically active, socially minded millennials. The opportunity to have an open debate and opposing views backed by facts is essential to healing the political divide and educating ourselves on issues.

As Max Andrews says:

We need to have substantive dialogue and allow reasonable room for dissent. There is no room for monologue in a genuine pursuit for the truth. We need to have our beliefs be accounted for by others. We need to have a desire for the truth and not be so dogmatic that what we currently believe is all there is. In the words of Augustine, we must “hear the other side.”

Unfortunately, not even twenty-four hours passed before I was contacted and told that this was a conflict of interest. I explained that I did not believe that there was a conflict as the goal of Chai, is to present a point of view that is different from their own, with a different goal in mind.

As a result of my experience, I have been able to identify a significant need for teens and young adults who are often overlooked when it comes to expressing their political, social, or cultural views. Free expression and open debate are methods we can and should use to pursue the truth. Academic freedom and discussion are of the utmost importance in our education as well as, social media, and they are the means by which we will achieve social justice and find common ground with others.

Our goal is to develop a space for public discourse, dialogue, and debate, based on a foundation of mutual respect leading towards civic knowledge, responsibility, and the common good. Unfortunately, the structures of contemporary society frequently limit and even prevent discourse of this nature. The “sound-bite” world of the media, the need for immediate gratification and the rapid flow of information on the Internet, are calibrated for immediacy, not sustained conversation. The emergence of Google, Twitter, Facebook, and the “blogosphere” have sadly lead to intellectual cocooning or narrowcasting that tailors much of the information we receive from our own interests. Our individualist tendencies to turn inward, while comfortable at times, prevent us from engaging different perspectives, learning and connecting with others. Wael Ghonim, one of the fathers of the Arab spring, dubbed the social media revolution, now says:

The same medium that so effectively transmits a howling message of change also appears to undermine the ability to make it. Social media amplifies the human tendency to bind with one’s own kind. It tends to reduce complex social challenges to mobilizing slogans that reverberate in echo chambers of the like-minded rather than engage in persuasion, dialogue, and the reach for consensus. Hate speech and untruths appear alongside good intentions and truths.

Democracy demands active and thoughtful participation, a willingness to engage each other. Meaningful social relationships built on trust that results from this kind of discourse are essential to education, personal growth and developing and sustaining a healthy society, economy, and democratic polity.

As we move forward with dignity and respect, we will find ways to discuss and actually hear each other. We can respectfully disagree, presenting differences without killing each other. We will engage in the free and open exchange of ideas in search of social justice and find common ground. I am genuinely excited for this new journey and welcome all who want to come along.

[What Goes Around Comes Around]

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