“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
I’ve read this quote from Voltaire at least a hundred times and the more I read it, the more I embrace it. The frightening thing these days is that the sentiment seems to be “I don’t like what you say, I don’t want to hear it, and I don’t want anybody else to hear it.”
In a country like this, in a place that cherishes freedom of speech and expression like we do, how have we come to a place where President Trump is threatening he may have to withhold funding to campuses to ensure that all voices can be heard. Whatever happened to if I don’t agree with you, I stay away from your venues, I turn off the radio or television or whatever device I’m using so I don’t/won’t have to hear it?
On too many college campuses and in other places, the protests have disrupted even the thought of certain speakers, or caused downright rude behavior toward people we don’t agree with. Let me be clear—those speakers who live a life of hate mongering and offensive dialogue don’t deserve an audience of impressionable minds to poison, but that doesn’t mean they need to be silenced. Protests can take many forms—nowhere in the rules does it say be rude, violent, and belligerent.
In most conversations, no matter how foul, there is probably something we could/should learn. Our world is diminished if all we hear simply reinforces what we already believe. We need to hear several points of view so we can make good decisions about who and what we want to believe. Silencing the voices is not helpful.
Once again, let me be clear, like Mr. Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher, I don’t have to hang onto your every word, write it on the top of my heart, and espouse it to the generations, but you certainly ought to have the right to your opinion.
Like most of us find burning the flag offensive, people have fought and died for us to have the right to do it if we choose. When Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem in protest of the treatment of police toward African Americans, he was exercising his freedom of expression and did not deserve to be vilified and have his message hijacked as a gesture of nonsupport for the military. He knelt for a cause he wanted to advance—his cause, his right. He paid a hefty price, just as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, *Viola Liuzzo, Gandhi, and others did. They didn’t compel us to emulate—we chose to join or sit on the sidelines.
As the number of media voices shrinks, we must be careful not shrink with them. It would be sad if we stick to the one or two radical ramblings of the fringes when we have so many channels, so many avenues to explore, so many voices vying our attention. Let’s listen to St. Francis of Assisi from long ago: “…let us be instruments of peace, where there is hatred, let us sow love, where there is darkness, light,…and grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand.” Today let’s put on our new moccasins and walk a mile — or at least let’s take a step toward tolerance, appreciation, and understanding. We all deserve that.
*Viola Liuzzo, 39, a Michigan housewife and activist, was killed after the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
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