Guest blogger Andrea Scott’s opinion piece, “Do handouts really help anyone in Nicaragua,” seems to have touched an exposed nerve. More than 60 readers commented on her article this week, often in hectoring language. The article’s subject matter has also been the topic of more than one beer-fueled debate this week.
While a strong reaction to Ms. Scott’s piece was perhaps to be expected given the sensitive nature of its content, several readers have questioned why The Nicaragua Dispatch would even consider publishing such an article in the first place. So let me explain.
Since day one, it has been the written policy of The Nicaragua Dispatch to invite—indeed encourage—as many diverse perspectives and opinions as possible. That means we will occasionally publish articles that you, Gentle Reader, will disagree with. But that’s a good thing, because otherwise I wouldn’t be doing my job very well.
In fact, if any reader agrees with every word of every article that has been published on this website, I’m probably ready for self-deportation, as Mitt Romney would say. So if anyone has nodded along to every dispatch, please tell me and I will fire myself immediately.
I only agree with about 80% of the articles I have written here; not because I didn’t believe what I was scrawling at the moment, but because my opinions are constantly evolving the more I talk to people, the more I observe my surroundings, the more I report on the news, and the more I wrinkle reluctantly into middle age.
On that note, if I may indulge a moment longer in self-satisfying rant, I want to challenge those readers who were so quick to dismiss Ms. Scott’s opinion because she is “young” or “naïve” or “inexperienced.” So what? Were you never? For that matter, at what point in life does one cease being naïve or inexperienced? Regardless, when did older people become so uninterested in what young people have to say about the world?
I am interested in what young people have to say about Nicaragua, even when I disagree with them. That’s why I’ve spent the past year inviting, encouraging and coaxing high school students, university students, young professionals and other young folk to participate in this online project by submitting articles and blogs. Their opinions count.
Plus, it’s a wonderful thing for young people to be writing, organizing their thoughts, getting published, and sharing their opinions with others. When I was Ms. Scott’s age, I was drinking beers with my friends and engaged fulltime in numbskullery; I wasn’t sitting at my laptop (or scroll of papyrus in those times) and working on a thought piece for the local newspaper.
Even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t agree now with anything I wrote back then. If Tim Rogers 1998 walked into the room right now and started telling me about Nicaragua, I would probably argue with him for half an hour and then politely take leave with some excuse about a dentist appointment.
Ms. Scott should not be attacked for her age (if you fault someone for their age, your argument is fatally flawed from the start), or her inexperience as a traveler (whom among us started off as an experienced world traveler?). Her ideas can be challenged—and should be, like all ideas—but Ms. Scott, the aspiring young writer who wanted to share her perspective with the world, should be commended for participating in and contributing to an important socio-economic debate. That’s what journalism is all about—not solving the problems of the world, but challenging our approach to such endeavors.
So bravo, Ms. Scott. Your article drew 60 comments in 48 hours. You energized a whole bunch of people and made them feel uncomfortable. And that’s something.