One of the interesting things about talk-back radio shows is that you get a pretty good glimpse of the kind of community that we live in.
The other morning Freedom of Speech came up and I was surprised by just how many people rang in (all male by the way) who felt it was important for the new legislation to allow people to speak their mind without any consequences. When pushed, they revealed that what they really wanted was the right to abuse and offend someone because of their ethnicity or their religion – without constraint.
I quite literally, felt sick at the end of the segment. It was like all the progress I thought we had made over the past 4 decades had somehow just evaporated. One caller said that while he didn’t agree with spitting on someone (“that’s violence”) he thought it was perfectly fine to tell someone to “go back to where you came from”. Echoes of Trump.
This Freedom of Speech debate is really tearing at my soul. It’s like the world has been here before but can’t remember.
Freedom is an important concept for which many of my /our ancestors died during WW2. But Freedom doesn’t stand alone; it always comes with an awesome responsibility to exercise it thoughtfully and carefully.
Freedom and responsibility are like the wings of a bird – it needs both to fly.
My relatives didn’t die so that I might have the freedom to speak or to vilify others. They died because Hitler’s ‘Third Empire’ (Third Reich) was using speech to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ kind of world; with ‘them’ being vilified, terrorised and eventually removed from existence. My relatives and thousands of others died to stop the spread of that brand of ‘freedom’; so that a ‘Third Empire’ of this particular kind would not prevail.
I arrived at the Drop In shortly after the talk-back segment. I was telling a participant about it and he told me that he thought ‘political correctness’ had gone too far; that he should be free to say what he thinks – especially about immigration.
As thoughtfully as I could, I tried to remind him that he doesn’t live in isolation – that he lives in community, and that ‘PC’ isn’t about constraining speech but about constraining thoughtlessness and carelessness. It is an appeal for us to be constantly sensitive to the feelings and experiences of other people. I talked to him, about how the Third Empire of Nazi Germany targeted people who suffered with a mental illness; that they were some of the first casualties of hate speech. He thought about that for a moment and said, “I didn’t know that’.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Voltaire: “Tolerance has never provoked a civil war; intolerance has covered the Earth in carnage.”