Our Voices — and “speaking the truth to power”

I’ve been thinking about the importance of having a voice since yesterday’s post about the silencing of voices by the Nazis. The recent Egyptian revolution that captivated the world was largely possible because people’s voices were heard through the electronic media. The voices were not silenced.

Sometimes we allow ourselves to be silenced for all kinds of reasons, but primarily for our own benefit or self-preservation—from the grade school kids who remain silent when a classmate is being bullied, to a corporate worker who recognizes corruption or unethical behavior but remains silent to keep his or her job.

Our voice is one of the most fundamental and powerful aspects of our being. How are we using it?

In November of 2006, Nick Clooney came to the College of Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I was a student, to speak about telling the truth.  His words could not have been more pertinent to beginning and even experienced writers.  “Sometimes you have to speak the truth to power,” he said.

As a journalist, for 55 years Clooney made the effort to tell the truth.  He would go get the story, investigate both sides and put it on the air.  Telling the truth, he said, “Is tougher than that.”  It’s tougher because sometimes you have to tell a story that people do not want to hear and you do not want to say.

Clooney’s message was about courage and being willing to speak out when we see or know something that is contrary to popular thought or opinion.  He used the example of the pre-school incident that occurred in L.A. years ago when he first became a newscaster there.  By the time he arrived in the area, the story had broken that two women had been abusing the children at a pre-school.  All the news programs and newspapers ran the story and the entire community was outraged about it.  The two accused women were in custody.  The evidence largely consisted of the work a single therapist had done with the children and her statement that children never lie about things they know little about.

Upon further investigation, Clooney was convinced that the accusations were bogus.  He had numerous psychiatrists speak to him off-the-record who supported this position.  The psychiatrists were unwilling to go on-the-record, however, because of the public sentiment involved in the case by this point.  Clooney wanted to go forward with the story using unnamed sources.  He took the story to his director who basically told him he would be committing career suicide if he reported the story on the air.

“I did not do that story, though I knew I was right,” Clooney said.  He said he “folded” because of the pressure on his career.

The two women served three years in jail, the community was split apart and Clooney, to this day, feels somehow responsible because he did not tell the truth.  He was a big name at the time, and he said, “People would have paid attention.”

Clooney said he often expresses and writes opinions contrary to the main stream.  It has cost him jobs and it has cost him friends.

He is a powerful role model.

Clooney sympathized with today’s students who he said are in a much more difficult time than when he was young.  News is coming at us from all angles.  We can see one atrocity after another on the web, on the television, in the papers.  We see and hear contradictory information.  We don’t always know what to believe.

Clooney’s parting advice?

“Look for the people who are trying to tell you the truth,” he said.

10 thoughts on “Our Voices — and “speaking the truth to power””

  1. Great post — I remember when I was a journalism student, hearing for the first time about subjective truth… very interesting concept that each person’s truth can be very different, depending on their POV. In one way the fact that the Internet provides so much information makes this harder: “news coming at us from all angles.” In one way, maybe it’s good because (if we can weed through) it allows many many POVs. Still, as you say, we don’t always know what to believe.

    1. It’s amazing, even in my own birth family, the different POVs that exist when we start talking about past events.

      I find this question of who to believe particularly disturbing during times of political elections.

  2. Many pov. And each has a slice of ‘truth’ . Sometimes an aspect of truth gets lost in the torrent of ‘outraged’ voices.

    Thank you for this powerful post. _/!\_

  3. I am ashamed of the times I have caved in. They did not affect people to the degree related in this story, but I did sell out. It tarnished my integrity. But I needed to keep my job for obvious reasons. The regrets will never evaporate even though the events would be considered insignificant or inconsequential by most. I still compromised myself.

    1. I think it is probably fair to say that we all have caved in at one time or another.

      It’s not always courage that comes to the forefront.

  4. I think the wise person develops their own BS detector. I rarely look to others for the truth. And I question everything. I think it’s important to question that which is told to us by others. People have their own agendas.

    It would be difficult to have to judge someone else though, where the ‘facts’ were presented as an absolute truth, as in the case of the two women. There are probably many innocent people in our jails.
    Excellent post, Christine.

  5. There is so much information “out there,” a lot of sifting is required. And who DOES one trust? Is this learned by trial and error…fool me once…? It seems everyone has an agenda.

  6. Another wonderful, thought provoking post. Sadly, truth is so mutli-faceted and so many people close their ears up with their own perception of truth that sometimes the lies can be heard more clearly.

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