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The moment in the film A FEW GOOD MEN when Jack Nicholson declares, “You can’t handle the truth!” is a classic. Personally, I’m severely annoyed when anyone intimates there’s something I can’t know, some information I wouldn’t be able to tolerate hearing or I’d run screaming down the center of the street in a blind panic and probably kill somebody. Apparently, the government and maybe several governments didn’t think ordinary citizens could bear to contemplate the existence of UFOs that were most probably not of Earthly origin. Rather than let people decide for themselves if the evidence was sufficient to draw definitive conclusions, the files were locked away from public view for years. (I hear that’s changing now.) Would we have run down the street screaming even if there really were alien bodies rotting in Area 51? Maybe. Lately, I’ve lost faith that ordinary citizens are stoic.
Our present administration forbids the dissemination of lots of information. The president doesn’t seem to feel compelled to explain why, but his critics figure he’s acting in what he imagines to be his self-interest. He claims citizens have no right to hold a person they elected or any of his policies to account, and other politicians who have shady pasts agree with him. The issue doesn’t seem to be whether ordinary citizens could handle the facts, but whether they might react in a way that would be detrimental to his political agendas. The president is probably right. They probably would.
But this isn’t a political article. I’m reacting to people who have recently told me they can’t hear information that isn’t part of their world view. Can’t? What would happen to them if they did? Most of them are careful to make certain they don’t listen to or read a word. I see people on TV who shout down opposing opinions or become violent with the person speaking. In less controversial encounters, those accidentally exposed to points of view they don’t share walk away or turn the channel. Often they’re reacting to family members. Are they afraid they might inadvertently agree? One family member told me she just doesn’t want to talk about what she doesn’t want to talk about. Her opinions are based on a point of view that was told to her, and she has no solid basis for her stance. She believes in her source and there’s an end to the conversation. She doesn’t want to feel like she doesn’t know what she’s talking about…even if she doesn’t.
I can listen to anything. There are many points of view I find offensive, but I can be quiet and listen and then decide if I agree. I’m an adult. I have those powers. The days when I had to plug my ears and shout, “LA LA LA!” to avoid hearing something irritating are over. I’m grown up now. I’m not any better than the people who can’t hear things–about religion or politics or corruption or prejudice or whatever. But I realize I don’t have all the answers and I don’t want to throw out new answers until I’m quite certain I find them lacking. I trust my critical judgment. I may still feel irritated by unsubstantiated information I fear will be damaging, but I won’t run down the street screaming.