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Why Write Vanilla?

Mar 17, 2017 by

An opinion piece ought to take a stand.

Ideas matter.

Tom Watkins –

It seems if one is going to step out and express ideas, thoughts and opinions it should be to motivate our leaders and citizenry to think, pause, reflect and, at times, act. 

An opinion piece ought to take a stand.  That is what I attempt to do.

My columns sometimes draw the ire of readers who take shots at me publicly and privately.  My columns, here and elsewhere are simply one person’s opinion, designed to provoke thought, discussion, reaction, even vehement disagreement and, from time-to-time, action.

Quite honestly, I would rather spark an attack than apathy.

I am not a “reporter” or “journalist” that is seeking balance; nor am I trying to tell “both sides of the story.”  What I offer up is my take, my opinion, my ideas, my feelings, my beliefs on important issues of the day.  I try not to write “vanilla.”  I offer my own personal opinion, like it or not. 

I also am not egotistical enough to believe that I could not be misinformed—or just down right wrong.  Having six siblings has kept me humble in this regard—they are always willing to remind me, “You are not the smartest in the family!” 

I encourage my staff to challenge my ideas and beliefs.  I have learned throughout my life that diversity of thought helps forge a better outcome.  Ideas openly discussed make for better decisions.

Depending on the day and column, I have been branded a “bleeding heart liberal” and a “right wing conservative-reactionary.”  Sometimes these searing brands have been burned into my backside based on the same article!

Label Jars – Not People

As I’ve stated, I have been accused of being a “right wing reactionary,” a “Trumpite,” a “Democratic Party/Liberal/Labor hack,” and an “apologist for the political left”.  Mostly, I just laugh off the labeling as an attempt to use my thoughts to support or discredit whatever ideology one chooses to embrace or discredit.

Clearly some folks have misconstrued my words, even clipping and rearranging them to support their ideological bent on social media or by other means.  I don’t have the time or inclination to attempt to police how what I write and utter may be used or misconstrued, when, or where.  With technology today, ideas can and do move around the globe instantaneously.

Thoughts, Ideas, Truth and Liberty Matter

Now, perhaps more than ever, with an ideologically and politically divided nation we need to follow the old Railway track warning: “Stop, Look and Listen.”  We need to be open to each other’s ideas and even consider that our own may not be absolute—or absolutely correct.

We need people to express their ideas and beliefs on the open market for rigorous debate.  We need to be extremely careful not to shut down thought, but to openly debate ideas.  The death of free thought and open debate will help kill our democracy.

We need an open marketplace of ideas and an open environment where these ideas can be discussed and debated.  To stymy, belittle, or humiliate people for expressing ideas wherever they might fall along the vast political spectrum is truly dangerous.  The New York Times made this point in a recent column when Jim Rutenberg wrote, “This is how the muzzling starts: Not with a boot on your neck, but with the fear of one that runs so deep that you muzzle yourself.”

We as individuals, a community, region, state and nation need to encourage people to express ideas, think, have civil debate, and be willing to consider that we are not always right, nor are we always wrong.

We need to embrace what my first boss told me: “If we both agreed on everything, one of us is not necessary.”

All progress begins with thoughts and ideas. 

Tom Watkins  served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director. He is the President and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority ( He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88

Source: Why Write Vanilla? |

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