Offense: The Price Of Diversity?

Updated: Sep 22

Evelina Silveira, President Diversity at Work

This past year has been particularly challenging for people like me: media/political addicts, 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 various 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 they could not express dissent. If you have heard firsthand the stories of people who feared saying the wrong thing or going against the grain – you would certainly have a better appreciation for how we in the West have been afforded many freedoms like free speech.

Increasingly, freedom of speech is only allowed if you express a particular opinion. So, if, for example, you go against a liberal idea, 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. 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 are bastions of free speech and critical thinking? But apparently not. What impact does that have on education if 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 understood 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 several 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 sincere approach – and one I support.

Unfortunately, I have found that my need to present diverse opinions is not always met very well on social media. And despite having a private business, some Tweeters feel that I should always stick to the same predictable perspectives on issues. If I only present one side of an argument, I am just another propaganda agent. I also feel like insulting my followers/ readers, believing they are not entitled to other views and can make their own decisions. Diversity for me also spells diversity of ideas and opinions.

I know that the lines between expressing a different point of view and hate speech are becoming very 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 center at people who often express a different view that has nothing to do with hate.

Diversity, free speech, and offence 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, which can be very emotional. We cannot legislate hurt feelings or thoughts, so why are we even trying? We either grow tougher skin or live in an Orwellian thought-controlled society:  what would you prefer?


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