Catherine Ryan Hyde Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 25 published and forthcoming books, including the bestselling When I found You, Pay It Forward, Don't Let Me Go, and Take Me With You.


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Personal Responsibility

Catherine Ryan Hyde

There sure is a lot going on right now around book banning and censorship.  In fact, it's come to a town near me.  San Luis Obispo, a small city about 45 minutes down the Coast Highway from me, reviewed a book today that someone wants taken off high school shelves.  Here's the problem:  We don't know who.  After ten years in the school curriculum, the book was reviewed today as the result of an anonymous complaint.

The book is "Kaffir Boy" by Mark Mathabane, a memoir about survival as a child in South Africa during Apartheid.  Some anonymous person is upset by page 72, which contains a fairly graphic description of children prostituting themselves for food.  

I have an old friend, Dave Congalton, who's hosted a local talk radio show since...I'm not quite sure, but I think since the beginning of time.  He asked me this morning If I'd call in to his show to weigh in on the controversy. And of course I did.

It was quite a spirited discussion.  

I made it very clear that I didn't feel any book should ever be reviewed on an anonymous tip.  Stand up, show your face.  If you think you're right, if you think your position is reasonable, what are you worried about? Well, I got some answers about that from two call-in listeners.  They informed me that the person was probably afraid of being "ostracized."  That struck me odd, and I said so.  To ostracize someone is to banish them, force them out of the group.  We don't put people out on ice floes in this society.  Exactly how would we force them out, and out of what?  I think the honest word here is not ostracize but criticize.  The person who wants a book removed from a high school is worried their attempt might be criticized.  Yes.  It might.  But why should that stop you?  And in what way is criticism causing you personal damage?  Why are we all so afraid of criticism?  If we're so sure we're right, what do we lose if someone disagrees?

One caller even likened it to the dangers of saying something about the gay community and then having them rally and form a boycott and put a person out of business.

Okay.  Let's stop and examine this.  A person wants to say something negative about the gay community.  But he's a business owner.  And he doesn't want them to stop spending money at his business.  So he wants to say it anonymously.  You want to take an action.  You just don't want a negative consequence to result from that action.  But accepting the consequences of your actions is the heart of personal responsibility.

If you're a business owner, watch what you say about your customers.  You have a right to say anything you want.  But they have a right to shop elsewhere.  If you're a parent, and you want a book out of a classroom, stand up, state your name, and explain why.  If people vehemently disagree, so be it.  Vehement disagreement is the consequence of the book challenger.  If you don't want to hear vehement disagreement, don't challenge a book.  

To throw the challenge out anonymously is like making a voluntary purchase and then refusing to pay the bill when it comes due.