Janesville57.9°

When a letter divides a family

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Greg Peck
October 29, 2012

I know a Janesville man who sends me letters to the editor periodically despite his wife’s wishes that he not do so.

An adage suggests you shouldn’t discuss religion and politics in mixed company. As I pointed out in a recent blog, despite the fact I deal with politics daily in this job, I usually keep my personal views to myself, even among relatives. It doesn’t help that I have one close relative who’s extremely conservative and another who’s just the opposite.

No wonder, then, the headline of “Letter to the editor wasn’t intended as insult” caught my eye on the Annie’s Mailbox advice column in Sunday’s Gazette.

It seems a man holds opposite political views from his daughter-in-law of six years. He got along well with his son’s new wife early on, even though he knew her politics were different. That changed, however, when she wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper that “contradicted my beliefs and principles.”

That led to a dispute between the man and his son.

“I certainly recognize that we are privileged in this great country to be able to express ourselves openly, but I believe there is such a thing as propriety,” the man wrote in a letter to the advice columnists. “I considered the letter a personal affront, and it ultimately caused alienation.”

I thought the man was contradicting himself. Freedom of speech is OK, he seemed to be suggesting, as long as you shut your mouth when your politics differ from those of your father-in-law.

I thought the response of advice columnists Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar was spot on. The man took personally something that apparently wasn’t intended to insult him.

“Your daughter-in-law is entitled to write a letter to the editor expressing her views whether or not you agree with her. Unless she publicly named you as an adversary, you should have let it slide. In fact, touchy subjects should be off limits unless you know you can have a debate without creating ill will.”

Politics in this state and nation are more divisive than ever. Have you experienced any family disagreements over a letter to the editor or a political discussion? If so, have you been able to maintain civility and speaking terms?

I hope so.

As Mitchell and Sugar suggest, sometimes it’s best to simply “agree to disagree.”

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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