Words morph beyond their intent


I’ve had butterflies on my mind a lot the last two weeks. When you think about it, butterflies do not seem to be what Mother Nature originally intended for them to be.

I would say Mother Nature meant for them to be caterpillars; little harmless, wormlike creatures that you can either choose to observe in appreciation or simply whap off your plants’ leaves.

But caterpillars eventually morph into something completely different; something that nature didn’t appear to create them for.

That’s a little how I feel about my April 15 column, “Is Tabor breaking too many legs?”

However, I must admit, butterflies is to that column as tranquility is to whacking a hornets’ nest with a broom.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that column with the intention of offering a point of view about the Tabor College budget-cut decisions. It was—as the section of the newspaper it was printed in would lead one to believe—an opinion piece.

It was simply my opinion. I drew on comments I had heard through conversation. I presented information that I had researched. I voiced concerns I felt. I used my column in the Opinions section as a vehicle to deliver my thoughts and feelings.

And those thoughts and feelings created—for lack of a better idiom—a swarm of hornets.

I quickly found out that the issue was touchier than I could ever have imagined. I got more comments on it than any other column in the seven years of “Don’t Ask Why.”

I mentioned to several friends, “I have achieved a level of popularity I never intended to.” One replied, “Famous or infamous?” He hit the issue right on the nose.

Particularly, my references to the Tabor athletics department hit a nerve with many people.

Let me plainly state: I do not have a personal beef with Tabor’s athletics.

I simply used athletics because it is a large program that has a large public audience, similar to the music department. A simple compare-and-contrast, if you will.

I used published headlines and statistics to help make my case and I briefly editorialized on those facts. I did not intend to personally attack any person or any group. I hoped that it was plainly enough stated that I was never invoking that anyone in that department deserved to be let go more than anyone else.

However, that is how some people chose to read it, and as a result I hurt some feelings that I had not intended to hurt. I cannot fault anyone for the way they choose to read what I write.

Anything written is open for interpretation.

Similarly, some readers also expressed to me that my choice of words may have been too extreme; that I may have written my April 15 column with too much emotion.

But then again, what is an opinion without emotion? Answer: ineffective and boring.

All I can do is simply ask for forgiveness from any ill feelings I may have caused. My apologies go to anyone who was hurt or offended. It was not my intentions to attack, and I am remorseful that to some it came across as such.

Also in speculation is the validity of the facts that I presented to support my thoughts. In the past few days, information has been given to me indicating that my “investigation” may not have been as effective as I hoped.

The issue that raised the biggest ruckus was my reference to the price of the vehicle that Tabor purchased for the president’s use. I listed the vehicle’s value and then paired that against the cost of one of Tabor’s departments.

It took until the last few days for countering information to be indirectly presented to me. The car, part of the “presidential package,” was purchased used for a little over $10,000 less than my credible source reported. It is being financed over a period of time, reducing the immediate financial impact to the college.

Also contradicted was my reference to Tabor’s 19 athletic employees. I accidently substituted “faculty” for “employees.” This was misleading and inaccurate.

I also never specified whether these positions were full-, half- or part-time—not that this was the point. The point was that the numbers are definitely “up there.”

I am well aware that facts can be used to support numerous sides, depending how they are presented. The reference to the 19 people in athletics is such a situation. The influence of these positions is, I feel, debatable. Depending how it is spun, the numbers could be used for different points of view.

I regret this information was not as well-presented as I intended. I apologize if readers were misled. As a learning journalist, it pains me to realize there were weak spots in my research. As a columnist, though, it does not change the questions I asked.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, I must mention the overwhelmingly positive feedback I also received for the April 15 column.

For several days afterward, I received a steady stream of encouraging e-mails, phone calls, Facebook messages, cards and face-to-face remarks about the article. I highly value people’s comments about their appreciation and support for the column, and I appreciated every “by the way” I received.

It is now two weeks later. The initial shock of the attention my column received—both positive and negative—has died down and I have been able to stand back and reflect.

I have to admit, I opened a can of worms I never intended to cut into. I said things publicly that most only said among friends, and I have learned that the written word on such topics has a power far greater than any sword.

In closing, let me reiterate: My deepest apologies to those I offended; my greatest thanks to those who expressed their appreciation and support.

I have had my say, and now I’m going to release my butterflies to the wind.


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