Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work
This past year has been particularly challenging for people like me: media/political junkies, who feverishly skim the international news trying to find the truth in a web of misinformation, lies and fake news. My Twitter newsfeed supplies me with a variety of political viewpoints on diversity issues. I take all of it in, recognizing that each point may have some validity. I am open to different points of view and I welcome them. I especially love factually- based debates.
Why do I like it when people argue about diversity? Because it means we are part of a free society.
My husband and most of my friends have not lived in democratic countries. They lived under communism where dissent could not be expressed. If you have ever heard firsthand the stories of people who feared to say the wrong thing or going against the grain – you would certainly have a better appreciation for how we in the West have been afforded so many freedoms like free speech.
Increasingly, I see freedom of speech is only allowed if you express a certain opinion. If for example, you go against a liberal opinion there can be severe consequences.
Let’s be very clear before I go any further. I am not for hate speech — that is very different and our laws seem adequate in that regard. Disagreeing and hate are not the same.
American and Canadian universities have been host to violent protests where audiences thirsting for a different point of view were hurt. Campuses were set on fire and a lot of other nasty stuff happened. You would think that university campuses would be the bastions of free speech and critical thinking? But, apparently not. What impact does that have on education if what we must always be concerned with not offending others?
I remember sitting through my anthropology classes in university and hearing students rhyme off a very different version of history than the one I was taught. Disparaging remarks were made about believers of my faith and their historically oppressive role. The professor did not stop the discussion, nor was that the expectation. (Probably these days that would be different.) I sat and listened to what the student said and decided I would not oppose the remarks. Because the student exchange was deeply emotional for me, it left an imprint. Decades later, I was able to understand my fellow student’s opinion and would agree with her in part and glad the professor did not shut down the conversation because she was concerned it “would offend someone”.
One of the ways I like to set myself apart from other practitioners is that I encourage the free flow of discussion about various diversity issues from a number of sources which is reflected in my Twitter and Facebook presence. It reminds me of when teachers would explain that you should use a number of sources to substantiate your argument and present both sides. That’s a really honest approach – and one I support.
Unfortunately, I have found that my need to present a diversity of opinions is not always met very well on social media. And despite having a private business, some Tweeters feel that I should stick to the same predictable perspectives on issues all of the time. For me, if I only present one side of an argument I am just another agent of propaganda. I also feel that I am insulting my followers/ readers believing that they are not entitled to other views and can make their own decisions. Diversity for me also spells diversity of ideas and opinions.
What I do know is that the lines between expressing a different point of view and hate speech are becoming frightfully blurred. The best way to shut down a dissenting argument is to say it is “hateful” or “offensive”. Calling someone a racist in Western society is one of the worst accusations and is hurled left, right and centre at people who are often expressing a different view which has nothing to do with hate.
Diversity, free speech, and offense go hand in hand. If we are going to be a welcoming society to a diversity of people, their values, and beliefs we all need to make peace with the fact that at times we will be challenged and that can be very emotional. We cannot legislate hurt feelings or thoughts so why are we even trying? We either grow a tougher skin or live in an Orwellian thought-controlled society: what would you prefer?