Frazier, a student at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, runs The Oregon Way, a nonpartisan blog.
I wrote my first op-ed as a senior in high school. It was about John Steinbeck's book "East of Eden." "Timshel," a central word in the book, is a Hebrew word that translates to "thou mayest." I referred to it as part of a message to my fellow soon-to-be graduates. The piece wasn't a stroke of genius and I'd surely make some edits to it today.
Still, I'm glad I wrote it, even if it made only one other person think of a novel idea, explore a different perspective or pick up a new book. If any of those things happened, I achieved something because our popular discourse was enriched and the diversity of thought was expanded.
I'm glad I shared my two cents even though this piece or one of the 184 pieces I've written since then will inevitably be used against me — maybe in pursuit of a job, maybe in a run for office, maybe in a social media debate. Whatever the reason, the threat of my past ideas being used to thwart my present and future plans admittedly weighs on me.
I'll be in a flow, typing word after word and riffing on what I think is an insightful piece, and then ... boom. I hear future Kevin asking, "What will people 20 years from now think of this?" That's when present Kevin contemplates erasing a few words, softening my tone and changing an explicit conclusion into one that readers will have to pick up between the lines.
Usually, that's when I channel the idea of timshel. After you read "East of Eden," you'll have a particularly deep understanding of why I think about one of Steinbeck's most important thoughts. Your past cannot and should not be allowed to dictate your future. Just as his book traces our ability to grow, learn and improve, I dare myself to share my growth, my mistakes and my improvements with a wider audience.
It's scary. It may come back to bite me. But it will all be worth it if my pieces help challenge others to engage in a more honest and open discourse with their friends and community. It's true that some ideas aren't worth discussing — for example, the merits of ethnic cleansing. Society is pretty good at drawing bright red lines around certain subjects. But there is a difference between indefensible ideas and controversial ones. It's the controversial ones that push us to examine our own biases, our own assumptions and our own areas for growth.
When folks like Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist and potential candidate for Oregon governor, dive into controversies their explorations should be celebrated and never used as evidence against their pursuit of important positions. Yet, some folks are already citing old Kristof pieces as reasons to doubt his credibility and capacity to serve in office.
Kristof and others who dare to share their perspectives on controversial subjects are performing a public service. The second that concerns about our future selves silence our present voices is the second that our democratic discourse becomes monotone. That's a reality we cannot accept. You don't learn from monotone. You don't ask new questions in an environment where every controversy is easily resolved. You don't progress as a society if people self-censor their struggles with difficult concepts.
In "East of Eden," we see characters evolve in the face of new challenges. That's all we can ask of anyone. We're all better than our worst day and all more thoughtful than a single piece. So pick up a pen and paper, share your ideas and dare to deliberate.
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