Recently two controversial Canadian speakers, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, came to New Zealand. Many of my friends protested against their right to free speech, and I understand why. But personally, although I don’t agree with most of what these speakers have to say, I think they should be allowed to speak. However, in an ideal world, I don’t think we should be speaking in divisive ways like them.
First, freedom of speech is not a right concerned with the content of the speech. Freedom of speech is a blanket right that protects all types of speech (except that which incites violence and defames somebody else) regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it. We can’t allow free speech that we like (such as Critic’s menstruation magazine) and also disallow freedom of speech that we don’t like (such as these speakers). That would be against the point. Free speech and the open communication of ideas are fundamental parts of any democratic society. And though it makes many of us very uncomfortable to listen to Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, this is one of the many burdens of our free society. Plus, I think it’s worth pointing out that freedom of speech is not a right-wing ideology – it’s needed on all sides of the political spectrum.
But I don’t agree with the way these Canadians are speaking. And though I would never wish to legislate or protest against speaking the way you want to speak (see every point I have just made above) I think it’s worth using these two as an example of how we can try to use our language to promote peace and understanding, not hate and division.
Personally, I talk to a lot of people I don’t agree with. In fact, I’m great friends with people I really, really don’t agree with. And when talking to my friends and family members who strongly disagree with my views, rather than yelling at them and saying, “You can’t say that because it’s against my views!” I try my best to shut up and listen. I try my best to show respect and genuinely see where they’re coming from. I then add my counter points. They then add theirs. And we then have a genuinely interesting discussion. After hours and hours of talking and listening, we both tend to change our viewpoints slightly, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. For example, a few years ago I was strongly against veganism, and after hours and years of discussion, I now admit that I believe I was wrong and I currently try my best to avoid meat. I was also strongly against most right-wing policies (and still am) but after talking to people, I now see the benefit of many right-wing ideas. And it is only through respectful discussion that I was able to change (and that my friends were able to change as well). To me, speaking to others, genuinely listening and showing respect are the only ways to create dialogue and a more peaceful world. And though it is worth pointing out that I hold many beliefs I will almost never bend on (for example, I am very firm in my beliefs about human rights) that does not mean I can’t listen to someone of a differing belief. (Google the Ted Talk about the African American man who befriends members of the KKK and you’ll see what I mean.)
However, and my point is, I’ve listened to these Canadian speakers, and the way they talk to other people is atrocious. They’re rude and they don’t start conversations to genuinely engage in open dialogue and free speech (where both sides can talk and be listened to). They talk to attack and divide. And to be honest, I’ve noticed a similar trend with a lot of people who oppose them, too.
Of course this is the speakers’ tactic; it’s their extreme intolerance that fuels their media campaigns and has ultimately made them famous. But I don’t like it. I think the only way to create a better world (one where there are fewer alt right people – and fewer alt left people) is to calm our egos down, let all people talk and voice their opinions, and listen. If people did this I think they would be surprised by how willing others would be to listen to them, and I think they’d also be surprised by what they might learn.