On Meaning One Thing, but Saying Something Else Completely…

Hank Green

Blogger/Vlogger Hank Green

One of my favorite YouTube Channels is the Vlog Brothers. Well, point of fact, I haven’t actually watched that many of their videos, but after I saw this Hank Green gem, I was hooked.

So much so that I watch two or three of Hank’s videos every year, regardless of what’s going on in the world.

What I mean to say is, if I took more time to watch random YouTube videos, Hank’s (and presumably his Brother’s) stuff would be at the top of my list.

Today, as it turns out, was one of the days when I did take a little extra time to tinker around on YouTube. Since I follow the Vlog Brothers channel in my YouTube feed, the most recent video was top of the page.

In this episode, Hank reflects on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th, 2001. In it, he points out a few key things:

  1. The phrase “War on Terror” is silly, because you fight wars with armies and countries, not with nouns.
  2. You are, statistically speaking, more likely to be killed by lighting than by a terrorist.
  3. I don’t really know much about video games or indie music.

Okay, so Hank didn’t really mean to point out #3 above, but after his commentary on 9/11, he pretty much lost me after that. Which, is okay, because his thoughts on 9/11 and the reaction from his viewers really got me thinking.

Apparently, so many viewers reacted negatively to Hank’s “flip” treatment of such a somber issue as 9/11 that he wrote a quasi-apology in response. His commentary there, I think, is pretty interesting.

There is an overwhelming feeling concerning my treatment of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 that I was too flippant, too silly, and did a disservice to the memory of the people who died that day…

I wanted to say a couple of things in my video about our world ten years after September 11th 2001. I wanted to make a point about people talking about “winning” the war on terror and how full of shit they are.

And I wanted to make a point about how we imagine ourselves to be much more vulnerable to terrorists than we actually are.

And then I wanted to move on. I did not want to talk about how horrible that day was. I did not want to reflect upon our shared psychological scar. I did not want to spend more time pretending that I was “honoring” the dead when really all I was doing was being afraid for myself, putting myself in their place and feeling some shadow of their fear…because none of us need more fear in our lives.

I just wanted to say a couple of things from a few steps back from the situation. I thought maybe we were ready for that. And maybe we are…but probably the actual anniversary of the event was NOT THE TIME.

His points, I think, are fairly well made, and I completely get where he is coming from. In many senses, I think of 9/11 every time I go through airport security, because a band of fanatical religious zealots succeeded in forcing me to take my belt and shoes off every time I want to get on an airplane.

I can feel that way on one hand, and still share an intensely patriotic response to the actual terrorist attack on my homeland, and at the same time shed a tear for the men and women who died that day and in the days since.

But perhaps I shouldn’t juxtapose one with the other.

There is, as the Son of David wrote in Ecclesiastes, a time for everything under the sun. And, on the occasion of such a momentous outpouring of remembrance as the decade anniversary of one of the darkest days in U.S. history, one should exercise a modicum of decency, even if our freedoms of speech allow otherwise.

Take, for example, the odious Paul Krugman at the New York Times. Krugman is a leading thinker within the Liberal movement, ostensibly an economist, and one of the more vocal members of the “Blame Bush” crowd.

For his part, Krugman used his blog at the Times to report on how the days and months following 9/11 were among the darkest periods of American history, precisely because of our response to the tragedies of that day of infamy

The fact is that the two years or so after 9/11 were a terrible time in America – a time of political exploitation and intimidation, culminating in the deliberate misleading of the nation into the invasion of Iraq. It’s probably worth pointing out that I’m not saying anything now that I wasn’t saying in real time back then, when Bush had a sky-high approval rating and any criticism was denounced as treason. And there’s nothing I’ve done in my life of which I’m more proud.

It was a time when tough talk was confused with real heroism, when people who made speeches, then feathered their own political or financial nests, were exalted along with – and sometimes above – those who put their lives on the line, both on the evil day and after.

So it was a shameful episode in our nation’s history – and it’s one that I can’t help thinking about whenever we talk about 9/11 itself.

It probably goes without saying that I like Hank Green infinitely more than Paul Krugman, but that’s beside the point. As a media commentator, like myself, Krugman is more than entitled to say what he thinks; in fact, that is largely what he is paid by the Times to do.

I am no stranger to controversy myself, and have often been called to task by a reader who disagreed with my views. On my recent commentary regarding Chipotle, or earlier posts this year regarding the Beef Checkoff, I was soundly denounced by some of my dearest friends.

Disagreement, you see, is fine.

The spirit of the disagreement, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. The issue with Green is one of tactlessness. He thought he was saying one thing (that we really shouldn’t be that afraid of terrorists, anyway), but in actuality saying another (that 9/11 isn’t that big a deal).

The thing he meant to say was perfectly logical, but what we all heard was borderline offensive.

My point? That is is critical as communicators, we take a minute to make sure what we’re saying is actually what we’re thinking. I’ve learned the hard way, as did Hank, that meaning and saying are two different things entirely.

And in the case of Krugman, I’ll leave you to your own opinions.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at BeefProducer.com. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

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