“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t heard or said this at one time. It takes about three names, however, before that little hypothesis gets proven false and people get really pissed.

I am no exception. Five months and ten columns after beginning as a staff writer for the Badger Herald, I am pissed off. And I realize I have bitten my tongue for far too long.

When I first took this job, I realized immediately my opinions would be challenged, my beliefs scrutinized and my arguments countered, and I looked forward to it. I had no delusions that everyone would write in and say, “Boy, Zach you’ve done it again. Really hit the nail on the head. You are my hero. God, you’re devilishly good looking.”

If everyone shared the same opinion, the world would be one hell of a dull place (unless everyone shared the devilishly good-looking opinion — then it would be really interesting).

Only by discussing with those who think or feel differently than I, can I hope to truly understand my own position — and more importantly, the views of those around me.

I looked forward to the discussion forum this opportunity provided. I was ready to listen to the words of Plato and stop living an unexamined life. “Challenge me,” I thought, “Let’s have a discussion.”

Slowly I realized that most students on this campus aren’t willing to start a dialogue. Not with me or with anyone else. They are interested in name-calling and petty bickering, and it is pathetic.

Members of the student body have called me every name in the book since I began here. I have been called a hack and an idiot and a misguided soul. One detractor went so far as to tell me that I was the moral equivalent of a child pornographer and mass murderer. I kid you not. I still have the email. Who was the detractor? I don’t know. He chooses to hide behind a fake screen name.

Other nameless assailants have called and physically threatened Opinion Content Editor James P. Kent, told Opinion Editor Kristin Wieben to “Eat a dick” and wondered how guest columnist Omar al-Nouri could sleep when most of his time was dedicated to suicide bombings and brainwashing all of UW-Madison.

Nice discussion. Thanks for the dialogue.

Students call for “well-researched” articles and opinions but can only counter by the ever-so-clever “Eat a dick.” Charming. Glad to hear all that tuition money is leading to such dynamic and riveting thought.

How does one respond to feedback like this? How does one stay off the defensive? How can I counter a person who won’t let me know who they are or how to reach them?

This rant is not aimed at those who disagree with me — or anyone on the staff, for that matter. Many people have written in with well-thought-out counter-arguments and statements without resorting to name-calling and pushing someone’s back up against a wall. Many of these feedback posts have caused me to re-evaluate how I thought about a particular situation or issue.

You don’t have to agree with me, you don’t have to like me, but you can bet your ass you need to respect me enough to do so without hiding behind a fake e-mail address and screen name.

This is a student newspaper. Staff members sacrifice hours of their free time for very little pay to bring you the news — or at least the crossword for some of you — everyday. You owe them more than cheap shots and wise-ass comments.

Voltaire said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Truer words may never have been spoken.

Over the last week and a half, let’s try to put it into practice.

Oh God, I can’t wait to see the feedback on this one.

Zach Fehrenbach ([email protected]) is a UW alumnus. The only thing you can call him is handsome.