Friday, May 13, 2005

A Chilling Effect

Recently, my mom and I ware talking about the changes at the helm of America and what they might reveal about the new Pope, what they might portend. (We’re not Catholic.) I made a parallel between the chilling effect there and what happens in small with college newspapers, where authors are called in to speak with the dean to consider the wisdom of their publishing this or that. I was confident that she would share my sense of allegiance with the students against a paternalistic institution but she disagreed. More vested in the administration’s role in loco parentis, she felt that a dean might well be right to caution a young journalist to consider the wisdom of what she writes.

The more I think about when this is and is not advisable, the more complex it becomes. Reading in a friend’s memoir of how she knowingly harmed another made me see her in a different, less favorable light. What might have been brave and honest in the memoir of a stranger became, for me, evidence that she was capable of knowingly harming others. Our friendship cooled. What would have happened if she had been asked to consider the wisdom of what she revealed?

And how might my life be different if I spent less time considering the wisdom? After all, mine are the parents who called out, as I was leaving for a date, “Remember, honey, wherever you go, we’ll be right there with you!” Hilarious, even at the time, but definitely a chilling effect. It’s a line a fully intend to deploy, on an as-needed basis, when the beloved toddler gets older. Now, it’s not longer my parents exhorting me. The reminders to consider the wisdom are fully and completely internalized. And I wonder, is that for the best? Often, I think it is. Still, I wonder.


genevieve said...

Depends on the wisdom. It may have been very important for your friend to admit to herself out loud at that point in her life that she was capable of doing harm. Holding it in any longer, lying to herself and others, may have been the worst thing she could do at that time. How she deals with the consequences is part of acquiring your own wisdom, methinks.

Unknown said...

I like that idea, that dealing with the consequences is part of acquiring wisdom. Now I wonder what responsibilty one has to make that part of the story, the lesson. In the case of my friend, I think I would have discovered the traits that moved me away some other way eventually. In the case of a young person who is somehow or other in my charge (a student, a young co-worker, a child), I think that the struggle with how interventionist to be continues (and, probably, is ultimately ethically important for US but not that hugely important to the outcome for the confesser/memoirist/journalist.