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Don't shy away from honest, open discourse

Two people having a conversation

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.

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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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Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

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Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

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