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.