I’ve always felt that the best way to win an argument is to be right and let the other side talk.
If you’re truly right, they will eventually talk themselves into a corner and get engulfed in their own frustration. And you won’t have to say that many words. The world will know. But in order to have that kind of a debate, everyone must be allowed to speak their mind openly and freely. For my money, the first amendment is the most important one for just that reason. Maybe that’s why it’s the FIRST one.
There aren’t many things I will march for. I wouldn’t march with Promise Keepers or Tea Partiers or Occupiers or women or men or …well …anyone. I don’t march. It just never looks like a good time to me. I don’t know if it ever solves anything and it just always feels like a bunch of people yelling out in the heat. I don’t like loud noises and I’m not fond of chafing. So, no …I don’t march.
But if I were to ever march for anything, it would be for free speech. I’m a pretty big crusader for that right. I have made a living, my entire adult life, on freedom of speech. My father did the same and my grandfather did the same. The basic ability to say what’s on your mind is the cornerstone of the American experiment. Without it, none of the other rights matter. Speech is sacred. It’s the flowing river on which every other right we have floats or drowns. It’s the basis for all art and expression. Without basic freedom of speech we wouldn’t have Martin Luther King Jr, Buddy Holly, Billy Graham, Hugh Hefner, Chris Rock, Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Wayne Dyer, Madonna, Prince, Alex Jones, Sarah Silverman, Reverend Wright, Johnny Cash, Jane Fonda, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Donald Trump.
You were probably reading that, saying, “what are THEY doing on this list?!?!” Well …THEY are all people who have let us all know where they stand. It doesn’t mean we have to agree or disagree with them. It simply means that for better or worse, they have shown us who they are. And THAT is the essence of the first amendment.
I get private messages almost weekly, asking how I can tolerate this person or that person. People wonder why I keep such a wide range of opinions and points of view in my news feed. The truth is I actually WANT to hear from every side of every topic. I truly want more speech, NOT less. As long as we’re talking, we’re safe. We have everything out on the table. We see each other. The danger comes when one side clams up and accepts that they aren’t being heard.
If you’ve ever been in (or known someone in) an abusive relationship, you know they reach a point of silent acquiescence, where they simply surrender the verbal territory to the abuser. At that point, they don’t need to talk anymore. They know they’ll just get shouted down. So they plan their escape instead. Once the dialog has ended, the relationship is essentially over.
As we watch speech being shut down on college campuses, I wonder if we’re not heading for the end of a national relationship. People are still reeling from the Trump presidential win. My personal view is that they’re reeling because they were never really listening. There were voices trying to tell us, “Hey …we’re being ignored, here. We’re not being heard or understood, here. You’re missing the point, here.” And those people came out in droves to vote for the most unlikely presidential candidate in history.
This is why we must ALWAYS listen. Even if we disagree. In fact, ESPECIALLY when we disagree. Shutting down things you don’t want said isn’t actually shutting it down. It’s just moving it somewhere else. More often than not, it’s moving it further to the fringes. Shutting down speech just drives it under ground, into the arms of the like-minded. And before we know it, we have waring factions and we’re asking ourselves, “how did it ever come to this?”
In my mind’s eye I see it metaphorically …
We’re on opposite sides of a river and we’re yelling at each other, trying to find a safe place to cross. If someone on one side of the river stops listening to the person on the other side, they might still find that place to cross on their own. But while they were finding the crossing point on their own and not listening to the yelling person on the other side, the person being ignored gave up on the yelling and simply found people on their own side of the river to talk to.
By the time the person looking for the crossing point gets across, they will encounter a tribe they do not know or understand. Because they haven’t been talking to them. They stopped listening. And by the time they get to common ground it isn’t common anymore. The ignored tribe has made its own rules and set its own course. And now it doesn’t see someone who was looking for common ground. It only sees an intruder. An invader. A threat.
And it could’ve all been avoided if they had just kept yelling at each other.
I welcome all points of view in my world. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with all points of view. I believe there are wrong points of view and right ones. I believe in certain things and won’t budge on certain core principles. But if I only talk to people I like or agree with I will stop understanding the person on the other side of the river; the person I’m trying to get to. And that’s how we go backward instead of forward.
No one has the right to be heard. Your’e not guaranteed a crowd. But everyone should have the right to speak. We need to know who you are. Your speech tells the world where you stand. It lets us know if you are a good soul or a bully. It lets us know how you feel about things. It puts everything on the record. And that is as it should be.
When I find myself in an argument with someone, I end up wanting them to say more …not less. They’re letting me know everything I need to know.
And THAT helps me determine if they’re worth crossing the river for.