Maggie Thatcher and a blind spot in free speech

Posted: April 8th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Leadership and public voice, Trust | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »


Former Prime Minister Margaret “Maggie” Thatcher died earlier today. For hours around the world commentary about her influence has flared with passion. Her death and tenure invite hefty critique about her economic policies, Britain’s coal industry, and the escalated unemployment the UK saw during her leadership. I valued the insight from Jim Edwards on these points, and how he reflects on his opposition to Thatcher with eloquence; …with other reactions about her death ranking far lower on the eloquence scale and closer to the immoral grade.

Gurgling of commentary
It’s easy today to return back to my high school years, a time when my parents and I observed Thatcher’s boldness with pride from our American south western town. I want to indulge those memories and stay swallowed up by them. But the present commentary about the prime minister gurgles more loudly than the cherished recesses of my mind.

Voice and a lack of empathy
Which brings this reality to the forefront: public leaders of all stripes deserve public attention and scrutiny. That keeps, hopefully, accountability on the radar, and the balance of power in check. Whether living or dead, I see the merit of discourse surrounding the Iron Lady or any other public leader. This minute though, I’m struck and humbled by my voice’s own blind spot (…a spot that may metaphorically live in anyone not leading in a hyper scrutinized arena like Maggie Thatcher). Even though to form and voice opinion is a right to anyone, I am finding today just how much my assertion of this right lacks empathy.

Has your leadership been tested in such a way?
As in, I sit here in luxurious distance from asserting any degree of leadership which broaches the in-the-fire leadership environment of our world leaders. Expressing positive and negative criticism toward public leadership empowers me as a citizen with little consequence. It’s the down side of free speech I suppose. I (anyone outside of in-the-fire leadership) can indulge to voice prevalent or vile commentary because it is simply possible (and because my mind can’t possibly imagine what type of leader I would be in that heated forum day to day in which Mrs. Thatcher served.

That’s an uneasy dichotomy with public voice and citizenry:
…to acknowledge the merit of voicing critique of public leaders, all while having zero capacity to understand what the test of leadership is really like for those leaders.

While taking all this in throughout the day, I will endeavor to grapple with (and slightly modify) that religious saying: “There by the grace of God go I and us all, plagued by the scrutiny of our decisions.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

4 Comments on “Maggie Thatcher and a blind spot in free speech”

  1. 1 Tinu said at 6:50 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    Share a lot of your feelings. I tend to romanticize the past I know, & I realize I’m naive about how people I respect conduct themselves in public.

    Still it filled me with dismay to learn the passing of a world leader via negative comments about her on Facebook. I’m neither a fan nor a detractor of hers, though I respect the fact that she was a world leader in a time when women had a lot further to go than today.

    It’s also interesting to me how the offline discussions of this that I am in are so… thoughtful, against the backdrop of the online conversation I’m witnessing. It’s days like this when I wish my work didn’t force me to be on the web on such days.

  2. 2 jillfoster said at 7:15 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    Some of the vitriol surrounding her leadership begs the question: has dignified critique left human discourse? A slight exaggeration, maybe I too linger in naivety about expressing criticism for leaders. The lack of restraint though has been eye popping today, and in many cases immoral. Thanks for this (and other) discussions about it.

  3. 3 Deanna McNeil said at 7:59 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    I am so glad you brought up what you referred to as “uneasy dichotomy with public voice and citizenry”. I really thought a lot about Margaret Thatcher in my high school days too and it was of interest to hear even during her active leadership the voices of dissent. It is likely that we can never have all the information but one thing is clear: Monday morning quarterbacking has never gotten anyone a thing! One can only hope that wise leaders surround themselves with the best advisors and information available and not succumb to ego.

    May we each maintain a modicum of humility, never forgetting our own foibles & weaknesses.

  4. 4 jillfoster said at 9:01 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    That’s a resonant, great point @Deannie about Monday morning quarterbacking. Thank you for that. It’s fantastic experiencing you and your insight here.

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