As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic

It wasn’t until long after the car had passed, and I had escaped unscathed, that I realized I hadn’t panicked.  I remember hearing once that traffic incidents often happen near home, probably because we let our guards down.

Maybe that was in the back of my mind as I rode my scooter, on my street, three houses from my home, and I saw the headlights veering toward me.  Cars park along one side of my street, so it’s not unusual for a car to drift farther than necessary.  I watched closely though, shifting closer to the sidewalk on my side of the street.  The headlights kept coming. The speed was noticeable.  I moved even farther to the sidewalk.  Then the headlights swerved quickly toward me, then away, and the car passed.

I stopped, letting my scooter lean beneath me toward the sidewalk as I looked at the car, waiting for some sign that the driver was aware.  It appeared to run a stop sign and hurry away.  After continuing home, and taking stock of what had happened, I realized: I didn’t panic.

It may seem like a silly thing to think about, “did I, or didn’t I, panic, and why, or why not?”  But I’m very aware of how much control over my reactions I do or don’t have in situations.  As a radio host, I’ve been told I’m uncannily cool under pressure, under deadline, under the constraints of a clock. The fact about radio, though, is whether or not I hit a post (speak within my allotted time) or not, is not a life or death matter.  Of course I have pride in my work, a deep work ethic, and a desire to do my best for my listeners, employer, and self.

But that’s not enough to trigger panic.

I recall during my open water SCUBA training that one exercise was to lose your regulator (breathing device) and have to calmly sweep your arm to retrieve it and breathe again.  In the same way you lose your mask, and feel around for it, and have to clear out the water and carry on–all while under water.  If you struggle too much, you can lose air and stamina quickly, so you have to keep cool. I could’ve panicked during this training, but I didn’t. Some students did, and I remember thinking that I wanted to gain as much knowledge as I could so I wouldn’t easily feel outmatched by the elements.

Often times the stress and drama of life can push us toward instability.  We can feel overwhelmed, we can feel outmatched, we can feel out-classed.  But if we take a step back, we can see that there is a way forward and a way out.  We don’t need to be a deer in the headlights, we can shift and watch and act to get out of the way.  We don’t need to gasp for air and grasp toward the surface, we can calmly feel around for the tools we need to recover.

Of course stress is a part of life, and sometimes we have to hold fast through difficult situations.  It’s hard.

But it’s even harder if we panic, and harder to use the experience to make it to another day.

When a forum on free speech faces realities of censorship

Coming into an event to talk about freedom of speech, sponsored by a ‘citadel of free speech,’ one might expect to have an open and honest conversation about..free speech.

But in reality, fear of persecution for panelists or their families is sometimes too strong a factor in how open people want to be.

Each month I moderate a free discussion on global affairs at a local pub, The Happy Dog. The event is sponsored by The City Club of Cleveland and a cadre of other globally-minded organizations in Northeast Ohio. We’ve talked about the refugee crisis and the future of Angela Merkel, we’ve talked about the origins of ISIS, we’ve even talked about foreign policy challenges for President Donald Trump and showed up on C-SPAN.

But our conversation in April 2017 on free speech and censorship in Turkey did not show up on C-SPAN, Facebook Live, or anywhere else.

Our panelists included a former Turkish judge, and a former Turkish official fired in a consolidation of support by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who were to talk about realities in Turkey. What was Turkey like before the coup attempt, before the crackdown on journalists and protesters, before now? Why does it seem Turkey at one point was headed toward the constitutional liberalism of Europe, and even partnership with the E.U., but now seems clearly authoritarian? What is the reality for individuals who don’t agree with Erdoğan, and what does that mean for their security?

The panelists agreed to speak at the event, but demurred at the conversation being recorded, or their names or images publicized. They feared retribution against their families and friends back in Turkey. They feared that speaking openly in a forum on free speech in a Cleveland pub would bring harm and persecution back home.

We had our conversation, and those present could enjoy it, but we agreed not to share details of the event as much and as freely as normal.

In my reporting about Egypt a year after the initial uprising that led to the fall of Mubarak I faced many people with the same worry that I saw in the panelists in Cleveland. Two tables of Egyptian expats in Zurich requested anonymity when we talked about the future of their country. A man at a Coptic church near Zurich initially agreed to speak to me on the record, but later wanted his name shielded because he had openly said in the interview he worried for his family…which in turn could attract something to worry about. (I agreed to shield his last name after-the-fact.)

And all around the world there is genuine persecution, including imprisonment and death, for the exercising of freedom of expression. But that direct and brutal imposition of censorship is compounded by the fear that causes people to self-censor out of a sense of self-preservation.

This is a reality of the internet that must not be forgotten, that a simple web search of a name might bring attention to someone speaking thousands of miles from a regime looking to suppress an opposition.

Journalists like me are at their core agents of free speech. Ideally, journalists work to promote and share the perspectives and realities of all segments of society. But it’s also sometimes a balance of protecting sources, protecting individuals, while letting the greater public know what’s going-on. I’m not a proponent of excessively allowing anonymity, and indeed think it should be used sparingly.

But sometimes granting that anonymity allows more information about the bigger reality to come through.

One of the panelists shared the work of Advocates of Silenced Turkey. Find them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/silencedturkey 

“…as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” – Thomas Jefferson

 

C-SPAN Discussion: The Next President’s Foreign Policy Inbox

What should the main international priorities be for the next U.S. President? Join us, the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, International Partners in Mission, and the Northeast Ohio Consortium for Middle Eastern Studies (NOCMES) for a free conversation on the foreign policy issues facing our next president.

Panelists include:
Anand Gopal, journalist and author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes
Kathryn Lavelle, Ph.D., Ellen and Dixon Long Professor in World Affairs, Case Western Reserve University
Qingshan Forrest Tan, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Cleveland State University

This discussion is moderated by WCPN host/producer Tony Ganzer. The full video is here.

Find out more from The City Club of Cleveland