The Fear of Speaking Publicly

DSC00816When I started Ask Little Falls last October (2014), the intent was to ask the citizens of Little Falls, MN, open-ended questions about the community in order to allow for discussions that would hopefully improve life in the city. I was hoping to hear from voices that we don’t typically hear on the community stage.

While I’ve received some feedback (thanks to all of you who have left comments!), there hasn’t been enough to represent a good cross-section of residents. I also heard from someone who said I should shut down the blog because no one was reading or commenting on it. At that point I shifted focus away from straight questions to providing commentary on life in the city as I see it. (It is by no means the only valid viewpoint of the community.)

It may not be obvious from the comments, but Ask Little Falls does have readers. Privately, people have told me they read it and have provided a number of reasons for why they won’t leave comments. It boils down to a fear of backlash, which keeps people from speaking publicly in any forum.

In a small town, backlash is very real. Your organization (business or nonprofit) may be ostracized and ignored. Personally, you might be called uncooperative and a crank. People may shun you for speaking up. It’s an ancient fear. When shunning meant casting someone out of a village, survival was at stake for the person being shunned. We don’t want to be cast out of the village, so we say nothing.

Believe me, I have dealt with no small amount of fear in operating this blog. I mull posts over thoroughly, choosing my words with care. Having been a blogger for the past 9 years, I have encountered trolls of a serious (as in making-personal-threats serious) nature. I have also dealt with backlash due to speaking up in other forums. Why don’t I just shut up? Go away and live my life quietly? Stop fretting about how Little Falls operates?

Because that’s exactly what those in power positions want citizens to do. Allow them to direct community affairs unopposed, as they see fit, whether it’s good or effective for the citizenry or not.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a benevolent dictator who could find a way to make everyone happy without anyone else lifting a finger?

That is not how American society was set up. The government at all levels is supposed to be “by the people, for the people.” Nonprofit organizations are also supposed to be accountable to the public in exchange for that nonprofit status. In order for this “by the people, for the people” accountability to happen, we have to have the courage to speak up … and the persistence to keep speaking when it seems no one is listening.

(That doesn’t mean becoming an annoying pain in the tuchus by getting grumpy about every petty little thing. Choose your battles carefully.)

If more of us had the courage to speak, fewer of us would be ostracized or shunned. If one person complains, it’s easy to shut him out. If 100 or 1,000 complain, not only is it practically impossible to shun them all in a town the size of Little Falls, the din of the collective voice is bound to be heard.

Raise your voices, people!

(No questions this week. Feel free to leave a comment about whatever is bothering you in Little Falls. And if fear has your tongue, remember that you can use a fake name when you leave a comment.)

15 thoughts on “The Fear of Speaking Publicly

  1. Mary…you are correct….many people should be raising their voices, if Little Falls is ever to change. I am not holding my breath. Folks have seen what has happened to me, and they are scared to say anything publicly. I publish some of your articles on Facebook, twitter and google. My comment that preceded this article on my Facebook page read: “People refuse to speak out because they have clearly seen how the city power brokers have smeared me and tried every possible way to shut me up. Same as govmint at highest levels have done to EVERY WHISTLEBLOWER AND MUCKRAKER…US govmint silencing folks or imprisoning whenever they can, about whatever they want.” Then Todd Pierce,(former Army Judge Advocate General, whistleblower and counsel for Guantanamo Bay prisoners) responded as follows: “It’s not just the Whistleblowers we need and need to salute, it’s also brave people like Robin Hensel who will stand for what is right against public pressure, especially in a small town. So I salute you Robin for your courage.” The bias in this community is a real problem for positive change. The community norms must be changed, in order for this city to ever progress. Nobody should ever have to experience the threats, and condemnation I have experienced for expressing their free speech. The community may not like what I have to say or how I say it. What matters is that the information I have shared is true, and that matters. The reason larger more inclusive communities progress, is because they are open to diversity, something sorely lacking in Morrison County. The reason more diverse folks are not interested in locating here, is because they are fully aware of how much racism exists here. Big problem, not likely going to change anytime soon. It would take a totally different style of leadership to change that. And a different set of values for locals. Probably not going to happen. All the efforts of Town 101 or any other group will fail, without welcome diversity.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I giggled a little when I saw Robin changed “their free speech” to “my free speech,” because I think that is part of the problem. Every one wants to speak, no one wants to listen. We are becoming a community where people react to others opinions and not respond to another person. Compromise is a lost art. My free speech matters, yours does not. One persons muckraker is another persons self centered rabble rouser, it all depends on who’s ox is being gored. Threats and smear tactics are an example – someone thinks their freedom of speech is at the crux of the solution, but Robin’s does not matter, so they discredit her rather than address the issue. We used to have a writer for the Record who was like that; brow beat until he won.
    Jobs, jobs, jobs… Interested in diversity, give people a draw to come to town. Give them a place to work. Once diverse populations – race, creed, age, education level, orientation, political affiliation, migrate to the area then diversity becomes a problem – a good problem. To expect different cultures to come to LF because we want them to is silly.
    I agree that it is imperative that the leadership of town need to have new blood injected in it. We need to focus on underlying issues as simple as East v West. We need to put aside the idea that the living wage as a goal (mainly because it is not an actual number but one that changes to fit an individuals idea of what they need to live – and what a person needs to live changes as they reach their goal), and pursue companies who pay well, offer excellent opportunities to grow locally in their career, and allow their employees to dream bigger. A place where their children could dream about living back home and having a great life.
    Remember the days where a person could work at the boat plants, Munsingwear, or the paper mill. Those jobs paid well and allowed a family to dream. You need small business to diversify the economy – you can’t put your eggs in one basket – but large companies will lead the way to a better, more diverse future for LF.
    This sounds like a rant that Bill O’Reilly would be proud of, but that is not its intention. We want large city opportunity and diversity yet remain a small town. Without leadership who has a vision, and the willingness to listen to ALL points of view – starting with the people who are willing to publicly speak out (Mary, Robin) – our views here are dust in the wind.
    Where can we, this group, find or create the leadership to make these changes; ones that offer opportunity, diversity, stability, and growth; in short a sustainable future for our children and our community.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary…I agree with you about “by the people, for the people”, but let’s face it. It all too often stands for “of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich”, or “of,by,and for special interests (or groups)”. This seems so applicable to the Little Falls equation. I have commented on your blog and responded to the “Opinion” part of the newspaper online. Because of those “opinion” responses (or lack of any), I felt that many times, I was standing alone in my opinion on the subject from all of the opposing viewpoints to mine. Some people do use a “false” name to make comments, and in some cases, I believe that writer of the original newspaper comment has used such a name to “agree” with his own comments, just to show the online readers that there is more support in their favor…kind of like “stacking the deck” to win, much like the MCRecord tried to do for the last referendum.

    You stated “choosing my words with care”. There should be no reason for this. Whatever happened to “free speech”? “We, the people”, have lost many of our “rights”, to become a society of censorship, political correctness, socially-biased, moral-majoritized, racially-motivated, religious-motivated, facebook-following, twitter-tweeters, and taxpayer-dependency, just to name a few. If a person isn’t part of a “social network”, they are treated as “social outcasts”, or having been “unfriended”, become the “shunned” and “bullied”.

    A couple of weeks ago, I made a comment to an “opinion” at MCRecord online in response to a newspaper article, and one of the comments I got was “Try going to a meeting and being part of the process instead of blind speculation!” As I have other obligations, I can’t attend meetings, but I feel that I should be able to state my opinions online. When I made a comment to this same person about the same issue on a different post, my statement was “censored” by the MCRecord in that they didn’t post it. After a do-over, they posted my comment, but it had lost its’ impact. The person who has opposed me so often on so many different issues appears to be someone who attends meetings on a variety of issues, and who is always in support of them, using taxpayer money. His comments are becoming increasingly aggressive and I’m starting to feel that my opinion doesn’t matter. I was “bullied” too much as a kid…I don’t take it anymore…I “push back” by voicing my opinion. More people should. Besides, if I did attend the meetings, I would probably be “blacklisted” from “equal treatment” by city businesses and officials.

    The MCRecord’s website recently changed, but it must be a “work in progress” website as there isn’t a news story to be found, however, all the advertising shown is an active link that takes you to the advertisers’ website…guess that they’re more interested in generating income than reporting the news stories. I’ve had to use the radio stations’ website to get the latest news. This might be an ECM Publishing problem because the Forest Lake Times website is having the same problems…maybe the programmer went on vacation or went to lunch and never came back! We need a newspaper that will print all peoples opinions, not just the ones that the newspaper employees support.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Robin, Shelby & J. Ski – Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. We have got some pent up feelings in this city and, as all of you have indicated in one way or another, very little listening going on that leads to constructive action.

    I need to reread and think these over a bit before commenting further. Perhaps these issues will come up in future posts.

    Thank you again for having the courage to speak up. 🙂


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  6. Perhaps others will be inspired to become local bloggers too. It isn’t that hard. I had to learn and I am so glad my former attorney urged me to get computer savvy. Now my blog is a lasting legacy and will hopefully help the public to understand more about how the city staff, council, mayors past and present, and attorneys representing the city, have all treated me. It is important to have a voice, use it, and be heard. That goes for everyone. Problem here in Little Falls is the power brokers don’t want to hear everyone, let alone implement new ideas. All they wish to do is further ideas that they come up with, or pick the ones that closely align with their own. Ever wonder why the new mayor has followed in the footsteps of our former mayor, by nominating councilors and friends to all city committees to “stack the deck”?


  7. Robin – Blogging is a great way to make alternative views known in a public way. So long as you can build an audience, you have a chance of swaying public opinion and building support for your cause. And a blog need not be about reaching a national audience. In the case of Ask Little Falls, the goal is to reach a local audience. No need to own a newspaper or printing press. The internet can be a great equalizer, but it does take work.


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