Why we should listen to people we disagree with.

As a member or a few minority groups, I know the importance of being given a platform to air your opinions. For the voiceless to be allowed a voice at all. I also know how harmful it can be when people with ideas of intolerance and oppression are given a platform to air their opinions and worldview too, but I believe it is far more dangerous to silence them altogether. This is my case for diversity of thought.
I have always been a liberal thinker. I’ve always admired the left for their love, tolerance and acceptance. Their eagerness to embrace new ideas and speak up for those who can’t. However recently I’ve begun to notice a turn in the tide in the left corner of the ring, and it unsettles me. I’ve found more and more than a few leftist thinkers are refusing to give others the same freedom they would like, to express their opinions. It appears anyone who disagrees with their way of thinking is a bigot who should be silenced. This is a completely draconian and totalitarian line of thinking. People have the right to express who they are. Yes even if that is a bigoted, racist misogynist. Voicing your opinion plays an important role in the progression of society. Most of the pivotal moments of change throughout history were only able to take place because someone had the courage to articulate their belief that it should happen. You only have to imagine what the world would look like now if people were not given platforms to verbalise their opinions. Socrates believed in dialectics. Truth is found in the discourse between two (or more) people who hold differing points of view. We arrive at the truth through reasoned arguments. This is the dialectical method and it’s a big part of why it is the world looks the way it does today. If nobody expressed their thoughts, feelings and beliefs, perhaps our world would look far more sinister than it already does. We’d live in a world where no one would be challenged, where people would be afraid to deviate from societal norms and a world scarred by an even worse culture of oppression. 
People are allowed to have opinions. No, they won’t always be good opinions but it is important that people have them and are able to voice them. This is what a free society looks like. What isn’t helpful is calling people bigots before you’ve even heard their argument. Being open to ideas that are different to your own is not a bad thing and even though you might believe you are on the side of the righteous, it doesn’t give you the right to tell people what they can and cannot think. People are not obliged to keep their “wrong” opinions to themselves. In fact, sharing ideas is how you plant the seeds of change. Conversations start and communities form. The diversity of thought is crucial to a positive society. Creative a culture that surpasses opinions that deviate from the norm only hurts and creates a culture of fear. How can we expect people to listen to us if we refuse to listen to them? One of the best ways to prevent division and intolerance is simply listening to what others have to say. Far too much harm is caused in this world because people simply refuse to listen. It only through listening that we can hope to understand and relate to each other.
We must know how to correctly and rationally respond to criticisms and objections to our own views instead of forcing them to thrive through omission and the refusal to hear other points of view. An argument arrived at by careful reason and debate is an argument that cannot be refuted. If you are confident in your beliefs, you should not be afraid to hear a different point of view, rather excited to be given an opportunity to plead your case and potentially have it challenged. 
Recently a number of university students have taken to ‘No Platforming.’ A process in which a speaker is not given a platform to speak by being shouted at and driven off stage. Charles A. Murray is an American political scientist who entered the spotlight when he published a book in which a chapter using data to claim that people of African descent were less intelligent than those of European descent in America. While I completely disagree with his beliefs and think writings like his only enforce oppressive and damaging ideas about affirmative action and black intelligence, I still maintain everyone deserves a platform to speak and be disproved. Personally, I think his argument doesn’t take into account the many structural and environmental barriers that have a strong influence over these numbers. However, many people haven’t heard this argument because, in their eagerness to silence this man, there have been rare opportunities to talk about it. 
You only have to watch this video of Munroe Bergdorf defending herself against Piers Morgan’s entirely emotionally laced, accusatory line of questioning. This is not what a fair debate looks like. Munroe touched on a number of important points throughout the interview and Piers Morgan was so caught up in his reactive attitudes that he missed a chance to truly understand where she was coming from and what she was saying. A chance to actually have his own thoughts challenged. But that’s the thing. You can tell Piers Morgan had no intention of having a fair and free debate, simply to assert his opinion over another persons.

My next example is of someone within the feminist community. Germaine Greer, a woman who has made many profound contributions to the feminist cause, suffered a similar fate. After claiming Transgender women were not real women, she was labelled a bigot, her honorary doctorate was denied, she was refused platforms to speak and accused of hate speech and inciting violence. Surely it is better to listen to her arguments and try to understand how she arrived at her thinking and perhaps dismantling her argument logically rather than to not hear it at all and in doing so allow the issues raised to go unresolved? There is something to be said for challenging opinions instead of not allowing them to be heard at all. While acting under the banner of stopping division and segregation we end up enforcing it. Dismissing someone else’s opinion doesn’t make your own opinion any more valid it only dismisses your value as a discourse participant. 
Nigerian novelist and outspoken feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, also drew public criticism from fellow feminists and transgender activists for suggesting transgender women’s experiences are different to cisgender women. She thought that since trans women had enjoyed the privilege of being male even for a short while, it was difficult for her to accept that their experiences could be equated to the experience of a woman who has spent her entire life living in the world as a woman without those privileges. My aim here is not to decide whether she is wrong or right or anywhere in between but to argue that she has a right to publicly air her opinion. I think it would be interesting to see this opinion discussed at length by a panel of women of all different backgrounds and see what insights emerge. Chimamanda didn’t receive quite the same reactions as Germaine Greer and Charles Murray, but her comments allowed a discussion to be had on a public platform. Many trans activists like Laverne Cox criticised the author’s comments and so these issues were allowed to be aired on a platform where everyone could see and learn. We need to hear opinions that differ to our own in order to make progress and educate those who wouldn’t normally go looking for this information. 
Silencing opinions that conflict with your beliefs breeds a culture of fear, where individuals must think the ‘right’ things or be exiled. This only creates a spiral of silence which inhibits the discourse needed for change. People are allowed to have opinions and people are allowed to voice them. We must give everyone, yes everyone, a platform to articulate their ideas clearly and freely so that their ideas can also be debated, held up to scrutiny and publicly criticised. Censorship doesn’t help anyone, in fact, it makes people more intolerant to new and ideas and less ready to accept change. We should be able to function in a world where all opinions can be heard and debated, without the need for censorship and without violent or reactive responses. Make no mistake, I will call out bullshit when I see it, but I’m not afraid to be challenged. If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear why and but I’d also love to tell you exactly why I think what I think.     

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