Kenneth L. Hardin: Your perception may vary

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 13, 2022

By Kenneth L. Hardin

In a meeting with a county leader recently, I acknowledged I’m a wordsmith.

I love words and I’m pretty good at stringing them together.  I consider myself a word assassin, a sniper on the keyboard, but nothing I write comes from a place of malicious intent. I’ve used words to console people at their deepest point of grief, offered kind words to people at their lowest point of emotional exhaustion and, sadly, I’ve had to wield a verbal sword in defense of my integrity. I’ve used that written blade to cut deep, wide and often, leaving emotional carnage in response to the idiocy spewed by the callous, insensitive, and unaware who’ve made a career of  hate, divisiveness and complicity.

My mind works differently than most other people’s. I’m not Yogi, but I’m definitely not the average bear. My mind operates so fluidly that thoughts continually flow and I have to use the metaphorical can opener daily to empty out the contents. I recognize my words have influence so I try to be  careful with how I use them. I learned early on as a writer, you should never have to explain, clarify or apologize for what you’ve written.

My words evoke a lot of emotion and cause people to have visceral reactions. When people approach me and share those strong feelings, I offer no apology. I simply say I’ve done my job. The goal of a writer is to elicit an emotional response and cause people to think.

People that haven’t seen me in years say I’ve changed a lot. I tell them, “No, a lot of things have changed me.” Folks get mad at me often for the things I unapologetically write in this paper or have the courage to say publicly. Because I won’t throw a rock and hide my hand, I’ve had a lot of emotional responses to my words.

In 2016, while attending a function at Catawba College as a city councilman, I was told by a prominent resident, “Kenny, I agree with everything you say about racism.  I just don’t like the way you say it.” An even better interaction came in 2015 while I was campaigning. I answered a call on my cell phone to hear, “I’m part of the cultural white elite of this city, and if you don’t tone down your threatening rhetoric against us, you will be sorry.”

The  coup de grâce came when I tried to enjoy a visit to Krispy Kreme.  A man approached me and said, “Are you that Kenny Hardin fella? I don’t care for that $&#% you write in the paper.”

But there’s balance too. I get quite a few messages from people who thank me and say they appreciate my words. Regardless, I don’t get emotional about what people say to or about me because I’ve been described as the villain and the hero in a lot of people’s personal stories.  Since I didn’t write their script, I won’t try to influence the direction of their story.  My ego, value and self-worth are not tied to people’s perceptions of me.

Everyone believes in the right to free speech as long as you agree with what they say, and don’t engage them in intelligent counter discourse. So, is free speech really free? Someone smarter than me said freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude. People have bemoaned how we’ve become overly sensitive and too politically correct. They whine their right to free speech has been violated, trampled upon and snatched away. They make it seem as if our Constitution has been rewritten in crayon and posted on the front of a refrigerator.

I’m not a political science major nor a law or governmental relations expert.  I’m not even close to “Big Bang Theory” cast intelligence, but I understand that just because you have the right to say stupid things, you don’t have the freedom from the repercussions of your stupid words. The words “God-given right” are typically thrown back at me when I’ve called people out.

In my humble understanding of such a prodigious undertaking as the Constitution, and although I’ve been castigated for refusing to walk in lockstep with dominant societal beliefs and norms, I’ve never felt my rights were violated.  This constitutional guarantee is not a divine gift from a generous blonde-haired, blue-eyed deity, but more of a protection from heavy handed government intrusion.

People’s expectations, beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and values are formed by the meaning received from communication. People listen to my words. So, I try to be responsible in what I write and say.

I can’t be held accountable for how my words make anyone feel, act or respond. That’s too heavy of a load and I refuse to bear it.

  Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a former City Councilman, and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.