Say what you will, but be brave about it.

It is never appropriate to limit freedom of speech or imagination, especially for creative people. We deal with the development and communication of ideas and new forms of expression. But freedom to speak out must always be balanced with willingness to accept the risk of challenge, willingness to engage in confrontation. Courage and a strong voice are part of our commitment to upholding and defending freedom of speech. Timid compromise and hesitance sets a dubious precedent as does coercive intimidation. They undermine rather than safeguard independence. Undermining individual voices weakens everyone’s freedom.

I am old and probably just don’t get it. But I do not understand why we are all being so spineless when it comes to freedom of speech. Since when is it okay to shut down peoples’ opinions? Since when is it okay to censor ideas and imagination? It seems to me that it’s since the likes of Twitter and Facebook became platforms for discussion. Except that there is not much discussion, just lots of aggressive posturing, whining and moral outrage. Platforming. This is not progressive: it represses expression, ideas. And ideas should strive to be dangerous and disruptive. 

The trouble with many of the exchanges I have seen online is that when it comes to getting answered back, there is no courage for the fight. There is an assumption of conflict and victimhood. In place of reasoned response there’s hysterical woundedness and hiding behind being offended or emotionally crushed. There is the threat of cancelling people who challenge a position, like you’d want to be friends with a canceller. Bizarre taboos block any reasoned counter or confrontation that disputes what aspires to be the received view. 

But surely that is the whole point? Talking back and forth across a known divide is necessarily fraught with dangers people might prefer to avoid. Micro aggressions they call them. Isn’t that it, when someone belittles you or bullies you but in a jokey way, or disagrees with you using proscribed language. I have a friend who has never been subjected to such things, although it is possible she hasn’t noticed. She is very tall and fierce and people are scared of her. She identifies as a man or woman depending on her mood and the weather. It’s very funny. On the other hand, I am 4’11” and blonde and have been subject to all manner of crap all my life. Fortunately I recognise it as such. 

My latest favourite is being referred to as eye-candy by a writerly colleague who really should know better. But ‘knowing better’ assumes that someone has been engaged in some navel-gazing about not hurting other peoples’ feelings and what it’s okay to say (or write) and what not. Why should we assume they have this internal debate, especially if they identify as a tosser? It’s not an obligation to be self-aware. If I am offended it is my problem and if I am upset I will resolve it with a conversation. That is what happened with the tosser. We’ve kissed and made up. But it still pisses me off and I doubt there’ll be any change to his perspective; at least I tried and I’m fine with being pissed off. It’s probably good for my mental health.

I strongly believe that everyone is free to express personal opinions, but they must take responsibility for what they say and respect the positions of those who disagree with them. Discussion and resolution is dynamic, alive. We must all understand the risk of disagreement, be willing to embrace it and to handle the consequences. Discussion should stay energised and vibrant, not be snapped off at the neck. Reducing disagreement to superficial cliché and tropes is convenient and likely to provoke lots of clicks. But it’s hardly helpful. Taking responsibility means being willing to engage in a debate and not merely platforming for the sake of one’s ego and vanity. It means taking into account the limitations of oneself and of others, not categorising and labelling them. No matter how sincere, posturing without considering the other point of view blocks discussion, expansion of understanding and appreciating mutualities.

Expressed opinions encourage consideration of diverse facts and points of view, known and unknown. They are part of discovery and the foundations of progress.

More on Freedom of Speech here: