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Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

I was disgusted and disappointed by the comments that piled up — and piled on — following our online publication of Steve Gevinson's OPRF commencement speech. Fortunately, I had time to compose myself before composing my reaction — something the vast majority of online commentators failed to do.

Wednesday Journal's Comment Policy, which I doubt anyone reads, states in part: "Be nice. No one likes to be SHOUTED at. No one likes to be insulted. This is intended to be a strong and pointed conversation. But don't confuse rude with strong on this website."

That clearly isn't happening, judging by the 77 comments still up at as of Sunday morning. We removed some of the more obnoxious ones, but the remaining commentary still doesn't meet Trainor's Rules for Civil Discourse.

Guideline #1: Take time to cool down before commenting.

I'm writing this after church, where the importance of charity toward all was emphasized, so I'll try to be as charitable as possible even though the majority of comments seemed intent on punishing, insulting, and inflicting emotional pain.

Guideline #2: Be charitable. If you don't know how, learn how. Become a more complete human being.

Our commentators, in general, need a major behavioral upgrade. 

Guideline #3: When you comment, show some respect — for yourself. 

Your ever-so-clever aliases don't give license to behave badly. Please act like an adult.

Guideline #4: Don't do unto others what you criticize them for doing unto you. 

This is my "Reverse Golden Rule." Most of those who criticized Gevinson for being one-sided were one-sided in their criticism. Most who said he was "arrogant" were haughty in saying so. They said he was "biased" and did so in a biased way. Those who said no commencement speaker should impose his opinions on an audience seem to be trying to impose their opinion on this and future audiences (If OPRF is swayed by this teapot tempest, no one will ever be allowed to express a point of view in any future commencement speech — like most of the previous commencement speeches).

Guideline #5: Disagree without being disagreeable.

If you read only the comments online and not the speech, you'd think there wasn't a single thing good about it (in spite of the few who rose to its defense). The critics said he used "I" too often. He didn't give River Forest equal time. He dared to point out that Oak Park hasn't always been a bastion of diversity and a beacon of tolerance. He articulated a viewpoint outside the ideological comfort zone of controversy-averse listeners.

Guideline #6: If you can't point out the good as well as the bad, your credibility as a critic plummets.

Steve Gevinson delivered a very positive speech, starting with the title: "A great, evolving tradition," though you'd never guess that from all the criticism. Read it for yourself, starting on the previous page. Here's a sample:

"OPRF has always been a great public high school … We are still a traditional academic powerhouse, and when many of you go off to college, you will find that you are far better prepared for your new world than most of your classmates. … So you're graduating from a special place, and you're bringing a remarkable educational legacy and experience with you into the world."

Did you fall asleep? If your commentary had been turned in as an assignment in Steve's former English class at OPRF, he'd give you a low grade for reading, or listening, comprehension and make you read it again. 

So read it again. 

Guideline # 7: Recognize that the person you're criticizing has feelings. 

Guideline #8: Don't use name-calling, sneering and outright mockery as your primary rhetorical devices. 

Steve Gevinson is a good man with strong convictions. They may differ from yours, but he deserves the same level of respect you would like to receive. He's not "fair game" just because he's a board member and enjoys a six-figure pension. This is not a predator/prey relationship. It's supposed to be a civil exchange of ideas. 

You can do better than this.

We all suffer catastrophic charity failures from time to time. Yes, including me — all too frequently, I'm afraid. So I'm not going to write off Gevinson's critics as pompous asses, the way many wrote him off. 

"I especially want to thank you in advance, Class of 2014, for listening eagerly and carefully to what I have to say, and for remembering it for the rest of your lives. … Before I leave you with some unforgettable advice … Now let me offer you some invaluable and memorable advice to take along …"

Arrogant? He's engaging in ironic hyperbole. It's a long-established rhetorical device — exaggerating playfully for effect. Apparently you took him literally and missed the tone entirely.

One-sided? Indoctrinating?

"Listen to all voices," he said. "Think critically about everything that comes your way — including what I'm telling you right now [my italics for emphasis]. Figure things out. Come to your own independent judgments using your amazing, God-given brain. … But don't take my word for it [my emphasis again]. Read about it. Figure it out for yourself."

Were you not paying attention – or merely looking for nits to pick? That's called selective listening and critics who practice it deserve to be ignored.

Whenever I'm tempted to go off on somebody, I remember a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, which doubles as … 

Guideline #9: Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

Of the 77 comments, a good 15 or so were positive. Two were neutral, correcting a couple of historical inaccuracies (See Bill Dwyer and Bobbie Raymond's comments if you want to see how it's done without snide asides). Of the roughly 60 negative comments, maybe 10 were of any real quality. Let's say the remaining 50 were actually present for the speech. With almost 1,000 graduates, there had to be at least 2,000 family and friends on hand (probably many more — I'm estimating conservatively). 

So 50 is not exactly a large sample. I'm just disappointed none of the graduates chimed in. I'd love to know what they thought of the speech. They were, after all, the target audience.

Gevinson sent the right message to new grads: Be one of those who acts more than being acted upon. Inform yourself, then don't be afraid to take a stand. His critics are sending the wrong message: Don't rock the boat or we'll shout you down. 

But read it for yourself, as Gevinson said, and draw your own conclusions. And when you reach that conclusion, remember …

Guideline #10: Express yourself like someone who's aware he's talking about a fellow human being.

No one is saying don't comment, just do it better.


Reader Comments

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Comment Policy


Posted: July 8th, 2014 7:47 AM

Just because people don't comment on WJ boards does not mean that the families of the graduating 2014 class liked the speech. I have several friends who had graduates and they were all appalled. It's like that poll of 1400 who claim Obama is the worst president since WWII. 1400? Sorry, Gevinson's speech was inappropriate whether he is a friend of yours or not, Mr. Trainor.

Preachy as usual from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 8th, 2014 1:37 AM

Returned to the paper after a long hiatus to see the typical preaching. I used to be a fan, but now fully realize that this as a one-sided self-pleasing news and worldview only "as we see it" publication. I'm all for being nice, but really are these many words required to say it? Exhausting.

Dreamer from Oak Park  

Posted: June 27th, 2014 4:48 PM

Still waiting for a rebuttal to my comment that 95% of what Mr. Gevinson espoused is shared by the OPRF faculty.This only goes to show the lie that Oak Park is diverse and tolerant.Mr. Gevinson urges students to read,but what does the school offer?Liberal talking points and propaganda with no room for dissent.When the left-leaning History textbook is supplemented with Howard Zinn's "People's History of America,"there is no diversity of opinion,only indoctrination.That is not education.

OPRF Achievemeny  

Posted: June 16th, 2014 7:29 PM

@ ken - followed all your rules!!! Really - kind of shows something that you have to use your position to take on your readers? Anyway - I have yet to hear from our and my School Board Chair and Superintendent - as to if they condone these views. I sure thought it was NOT in the tradition of OPRF - all Things Best.

Ray Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 14th, 2014 12:55 PM

@ Ken - Physician heal thyself!

Enough, Enough  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:00 PM

The fact that "Enough" begins his or her premise with the liberal mindset being based on "fairness and equality" makes the rest of his or her post laughable and irrelevant. That mindset penalizes those in pursuit of the American Dream by taxing the crap out of them and trying to keep them down on equal footing with deadbeats. True freedom is the opposite of what Enough preaches. So enough, enough.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 1:31 PM

@enough...your words..."The fact is that the entire liberal view is based on fairness and equality for all and sometimes that means pointing out persons that are trying to work against this goal." My points are to this point. The results of Liberalism today is that they empower G and that G is not fair and equal. Liberals that recognize this give us Bill Clinton not Barack Obama. Liberal sensibilities with a clear understanding of the limits of G is what I seek.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 1:12 PM

@enough...Facts you want. Here is a the document that was was my source that takes IRS data and visualizes it. Comprehension is important as well. I did not talk about effective tax rate to individual I talked about who pays for the G. Another way to say it...from the top 10% of earners we get 71% of our revenue. The bottom 50% or 75 million households we get 2.3%. Top 10% up bottom 50% down in last 35 yrs.

Jim from South Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 12:53 PM

Trainor is paid to be an irritant. It boosts hits on the web site, and that can be turned into advertising revenue. He does a good job of it. That said, Trainor also fits the description of the partisan, polar political activist described in the recent Pew poll. He knows he is politically correct, and has duty to chastise those who think differently.


Posted: June 13th, 2014 11:49 AM

Also--get your facts straight


Posted: June 13th, 2014 11:30 AM

We are not talking about the same thing. I am talking about people who comment on the WJ, you are talking about taxes and politicians. It is helpful usually to stick to the topic at hand.

Al Gater from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 11:05 AM

A new politics is underway. No more liberal and conservative. No more government by dollars, political parties, elephants and donkeys. No more press and media (local and national) that report based on sales sheets, and no more elected officials focused on their self-seeking agendas, influence, and ego. We will call the new politics - Boot Cantor. The Boot Cantor Way is voting for what best for your community, not for the fiscal wants of officials with their eyes on power and greed.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:46 AM

@Real: Precisely. Confirmation bias. But, the point of Ken's editorial should be - stop fanning the flames of bias. Knuckle - headed rips on Republicans (by Ken specifically as a community leader) or on liberals are a waste of energy. They are divisive, detract from finding solutions, alienating, destroy a sense of community, contribute to reptilian-brained impulsiveness, hurt feelings, and generally, don't make people happy. Stop it Ken, seriously.

Referee Arthur Mercante from OP  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:38 AM

...and the winner, by Technical Knockout over @Enough is....Mr. Middle! Again, Mr Middle with a 3rd round TKO over @Enough.

Real List  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:31 AM

So, in conclusion, fairness and equality are relative terms.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:12 AM

What's equal in that I am denied a building permit until I donate to an Alderman. Liberals have created a G monster in their search for fairness. In my world fairness comes from enlightened people not G. Liberals would benefit from recognizing that and be an agent of change instead of transferring those responsibilities to G.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:11 AM

What is fair about Speaker Madigan in his position for 30 years and seeing to it that his big building tenants in the Loop pay less if he represents them. (See Trib article) Equal? So in 1980 the bottom 50% of earners paid 7% of the total Federal Taxes today they pay 2.3%. In 1980 the top 10% earners paid 50% of Federal Taxes now 71%. Today the top 10% is $116K+. How about the 1% ($369K+) they use to pay 19% now 37% of total taxes.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 10:10 AM

@enough?fairness and equality is what Liberals want? When it comes to social issues of one living their life free to choose what medical procedures to have or whom to marry you are exactly right. Liberalism has always been about accepting the intelligence of others to think for themselves. However what is fair about a child that lives east of Austin that cannot go to OP schools? What is fair about a bureaucracy that manipulates and adapts law to change it to fit their political needs?

Brian from Oak Park  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 9:39 AM

@Enough: Seriously, every liberal wants equality? Fairness? Both are poll-tested buzz words that soften the blows of a chant for redistribution. Taking from one, by force of law, to give to others. Conservatives want equality of opportunity and fairness through the liberties laid out by the founding fathers. If talking about giving all people the opportunity to be successful and flourish from the rewards of their success, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, etc., we agree.


Posted: June 13th, 2014 9:13 AM

So no, conservatives claiming liberals are doing the same thing they fight against (intolerance for another person's viewpoint) is not the same, and remember that what they are fighting for is equality for those that have historically been disenfranchised while conservatives want to retain rights for those who historically have had them (wealthy white men) even if it means taking away equality for others. We need a balance here?"not keeping the scales tilted.


Posted: June 13th, 2014 9:12 AM

The fact is that the entire liberal view is based on fairness and equality for all and sometimes that means pointing out persons that are trying to work against this goal, i.e. rich businessmen that don't pay living wages, people that don't want low-income people in their community, etc. This doesn't mean the liberal viewpoint thinks we should all be exactly the same but that we should all have the same opportunities.


Posted: June 13th, 2014 9:12 AM

To be intolerant of intolerance is not anywhere near the same thing as being racist. I see comments on this site that constantly accuse liberal view points as equally intolerant as conservatives (or what liberals accuse conservatives of).

Infecting the next gen  

Posted: June 13th, 2014 8:03 AM

The Pew Research Center issued survey findings yesterday that voters who adhere consistently to liberal or conservative views has doubled since 1994, to 21%. The result has been political polarization and partisan acrimony. Mr. Gevinson's speech is an example of this partisan rhetoric. The fact that a Board of Education members used the opportunity of a commencement speech to expose the next generation of voters to this divisive mindset is unacceptable, and calls to question OPRFHS.

Mr. Middle   

Posted: June 12th, 2014 9:06 PM

@ken...clearly your source is wrong. One reason I know this is the talk after the ceremony as all graduated where still there. This was an immediate and hot topic on the field. Also the point is a board members daughter broke the rules. It is the definition of arrogance if it was just her or 100 girls special treatment was given against the rules. It is a bad precedent and a rule a board member should enforce on his own child.

Mr. Middle   

Posted: June 12th, 2014 8:59 PM

@ken. Your source is incorrect. Since you where not in attendance your statement breaks your own suggestions. Review the tape...I sat at the entrance and say all graduates. Some girls had long see through raps with short dresses. Within the rules. When you receive actual proof report back. Then maybe respect the 3 other well sourced and balanced points before your snide remarks.

Cherry Garcia from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 8:07 PM

This is what happens when hippies stop smoking dope. Harsh buzz!

I'll Give You Anonymous, Ken  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 7:43 PM

Liberals like Ken are as close-minded and backward as racist hicks from the deep south. Intolerant, firm in his views, and unaccepting of any dissent. Chew on that, Ken.

oprwer from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 5:47 PM

Oh this is rich! Ken Trainor's word for those who do not agree with his self-congratulatory brand of leftism is simple: "Shut Up!" Week after week, it's fine for him to call conservatives the root of all evil in America, but when they deign to object to Gevinson's narcissistic and divisive display, Trainor's response is: "Shut Up!" If Brandeis, Rutgers and Mozilla can say "Shut Up", why not Trainor?

Ken Trainor  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 5:19 PM

Gevinson's daughter was not the only grad wearing a short dress at graduation, according to our eyewitness. Since that is the capper on your argument, it reflects badly on your argument. If you're honest, you'll admit you were mistaken.

Chris from OP  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 4:53 PM

I'm sorry, but did I just get a lecture on how to be respectful to people who disagree with me from *Ken Trainor* HAHAHAHAHA

Answer from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 1:22 PM

To answer JBM's question, Oak Park's local election turnout is typically at or above the average for similar local Chicago suburban communities. Voters love national elections, but most of their day to day lives are effected more by local elections.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 1:16 PM

@John...Civic spirit is low because too many people run for too many offices. In my world 5 FT paid elected officials to replace all boards would raise involvement. The 60 or so odd seats between OPRF is too much and leads to voter apathy. We do not need 10 different boards.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 12:16 PM

Mr Middle - How do we judge the civic spirit of Oak Park when the turnout for presidential election have voter turnouts near 90% and local election (board elections) have difficulty reaching 20% (Village Turnout)?

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:39 AM

His daughter was wearing a short dress. Why was she the only one at the ceremony not in proper attire? Why was she not pulled from the ceremony? As a Board member you live by the rules created and that you have say in them. If you do not like them it is not optional to disregard. Would another student not a daughter of the board be let in? We may never know. This was the cap of his arrogant day and inappropriate speech.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:34 AM

#4 I could talk about his reference to the Koch Bros but that is a debatable point. However I will point to the nail that drives his arrogance home. Years ago OPRF HS did away with Caps and Gowns. It instituted a long white dress and brown suit. Every year girls complain that the dress will be worn once and can they not get a shorter dress. The rules clearly state that graduates not in proper attire can be pulled from graduation. After his speech he presented his daughter with her diploma.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:29 AM

#3 In his 11th graph he speaks about how "DOOPers" would be moved to "conniptions, catatonia, and possibly early graves" if they knew about the Spoken Word class. Once again we find a division of people good and bad. We find an insulting of their thoughts and values and do not recognize that many DOOPers are now OP Dems. Why divide? Its arrogant that "my thoughts" are better than your inappropriate thoughts. Much of the opening of minds have come from those very same DOOPers.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:23 AM

#2 After a bad start at insulting many in the audience he talked in his 7th graph about OP voting 84% D which he was proud of as an accomplishment. He mentions how "far right" the country has moved. Factually since 1976 to 2016 there will be 20 yrs of an R and 20 yrs of a D president. To imply that 84% is virtuous means 16% are not. Once again he divides the audience into good and bad. Since many in the audience are not residents of OPRF this is again insulting.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:20 AM

Ken - still considering whether to go anonymous. Hate to lose the Facebook Verified bonus words though.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:18 AM

Ken - I am totally satisfied with the quality of comments online? If there is a poster whose post does not interest me or offends me, I don't read it. I like the transparency that anonymity provides. Some of the best and most meaningful comments come from anonymous posters. I honestly do not understand why people using false names come to the site to complain about those also using false names, but I like the democracy of the hypocrisy.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 11:13 AM

@Ken...I was at the speech and you must recognize that delivery is important. So I will try and highlight 4 examples of arrogance that taints the speech in a way that ruins the good thing he said. 1. In attendance are 30% RF people who pay more per pupil then OP. Time constraints should not discount 30% of the students and there is no need to separate. He should have referenced the "community as a whole." Separating in anyway is devise and arrogant in that OP is more important to RF.

Trainor's Golden Rules  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 9:22 AM

Mr. Trainor's Golden Rules are very much aligned with Mr. Gevinson's speech; condescending, ego-centric and out-of-touch with the intended audience. What is needed by columnists and online commenters is more critical analysis, substantiated claims, and thicker skins, and less partisanship and exceptionalism.

To Wednesday Journal  

Posted: June 12th, 2014 9:07 AM

If you went to Facebook verified only posts (like the Landmark) you would do away with a ton of the nonsense.

Ken Trainor  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 3:01 PM

John, I wasn't actually referring to you, but instead of criticizing me for criticizing the low quality of comments in general, why not join in helping us raise the bar a bit? Are you really satisfied with the quality of comments online?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 2:50 PM

I am thinking of switching to anonymous. That will reduce the amount of snide remarks that are delivered at me non-stop by the anit-anonymous-posters. Particularly annoying is Ken continuous attack on people that actual vote, comment, and care about a township that is thrilled when their voter turnout reaches 20%. Just can't wait for another one of Ken's Village Pride pieces.

Wait a second  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 1:08 PM

"Others'" not "other's" Sorry.

Wait a second  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 1:07 PM

You mean the journalist who regularly belittles Republicans (not that I am one, not that there is anything wrong with it) and those with a differing view of the 2nd Amendment is preaching civility and tolerance for other's opinions? Does this new "tolerance for intolerance" approach only apply depending upon who is doing the speaking?

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 9:06 AM

Well said, Ken, and I believe your general principles will likely be referred to many times in the years to come. I'm glad we have this forum for discussion, but so often it becomes an over-heated hate-fest rather than a reasoned and calmly considered conversation. Sometimes it's easier to get mad than to articulate a position or formulate an argument. Here's hoping your good thoughts correct that tendency.

mkitbtr from Oak Park  

Posted: June 11th, 2014 8:31 AM

Thank you, Ken for saying was so very many of us think week after week. Let the criticisms come, but for all our sakes, please be respectful.

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