I’ve come to cherish free speech more than I ever did.
But part of the deal here, I’m coming to realise, in taking the notion of Free Speech seriously, is the need, our need, to start separating what is said from the person who is saying it.
I’ve been as tribalised in my thinking as anybody over the years. And part of that thinking means believing, firstly, that you, not Them, are on the side of good. And the other part is the tendency to demonise certain representatives of Them, to the point at which anything that person says is disregarded completely. Because They said it. Part of the mantra is, that if you take anything they say seriously, you are already kind of corrupted, and even worse, betraying your own tribe.
Examples of the sort of people who fell into my own category, my own tribe’s category, of Demon are well known names like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Piers Morgan.
(One of these people inspired, from a sense of incomprehension and anxiety, a whole album, “Too Much Of Everything” which I wrote and recorded as The Strunts with my friend Les Oman. You can probably work out who, if you happened to listen to it, or even if you didn’t. It remains an album of which I’m proud and which we both stand by).
The names I mention above are representative of the kind of “demons” who I stopped being able to listen to. Part of the reason for that was that I genuinely didn’t like listening to them. But the other reason undoubtedly was, that it is far easier to demonise someone, when we put our fingers in our ears and block out anything that is being said.
Because listening, genuinely listening, to anybody at all, means that we will inevitably find that, while we may well disagree with them on many or most things, and might find they themselves highly disagreeable, never the less we will bump into some words they say with which we actually do agree.
This is a very uncomfortable moment. Particularly for those of us who hate conflict, but love truth, because it stirs up a lot of cognitive dissonance. We want to fully BELONG (to our own tribe) but we also want to acknowledge TRUTH (where-ever it happens to show up).
So, as I say, the easy option, is to not listen at all. Then we can keep our “Truth” and still be loved and a fully paid up member of our own tribe. We can still belong.
I think this was my own subconscious working out.
But I was wrong. I was very wrong.
And I have come to believe that not listening to those I strongly disagree with, or dislike, and not separating the speech from the speaker, is one of the most dangerous acts that I have committed towards my own growth as a human. Towards my own integrity. And when many millions of us are doing this kind of thing (and we are) and when we are encouraged to do so, as seems to be happening much more in the last ten years, then it becomes dangerous for the whole of humanity.
That’s what I’ve come to believe.
So I’ve been challenging myself, and I challenge you - try listening to one of your own self labelled Demons, and do nothing more - nothing more - than try and find something they say with which you agree.
We don’t die or become corrupt when we do this. Though our hands might get a little bit dirty and we may need to hold our noses at times.
Yet in doing so we can’t help, at least in that instance, to grow and stretch ourselves a little bit, as human beans. And, most importantly, cease to play a part, at that moment, in a massive, uncoordinated but, I believe, very real, wall building psychology that has emerged, and that is calcifying our relationships and our peaceful co-existence world wide.
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