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The Carletonian

On the fray

<ir="ltr">I am not one to follow the sound of a fray, even if the fray was merely on print. And by “fray,” I exaggerate the nature of our continuing conversations on free speech in the past few years. Like many on this campus, I admit that I know not the words and how best to put them. It does seem like a fray because what we say and do is watched, and it goes without saying that we don’t want to slip up. We live public lives, don’t we? That said, I appreciate those who have sought to engage in the fray, drawing towards the jousting on type. At the risk of seeming neutral as I begin to write, may I offer, to you reader, a favor?

But an explanation seems necessary before I ask. For the past few weeks, both on this page and countless conversations – and I would hope so – we have been called upon to listen across differences and have empathy. Regardless of your position on free speech and hate speech, all of us are asked to incorporate listening and empathy not merely as a “solution” to the perennial issues of speech, but also as an ongoing ethic that leads our lives, beyond the monastery that is campus, but especially within. I urge you to listen. As you listen, be on the lookout for “why?” Listen for the “whys”, the reasoning and the experiences and emotions, but especially listen for the “why” of your fellow person’s values.

The question of values is among the many things I find at stake in this conversation on free speech. There are sets of values (as well as morals) that undergird our positions and approaches to addressing the issues of free speech. In this space, I have vaguely referenced that there are community values. Because it is the nature of us living together to have a culture, among other reasons, we would have such a body of values that we strive to live by in our community.  These values are also what complicates drawing the line around and through speech, no matter how much we have wished to define (or not define) it. As the conversation has gone on, brazenly by certain faculty as well as students, I have found the lack of clarity of a consensus on some of these values and their expression and fulfilment in speech and action.

How is this so? It goes without saying that we have lived different lives coming to this campus community, shaded and tinted on how to view the world and oneself in it. With such differences, we would have differences in expressions and priorities of values. It is with these values that we approach the question asked by our conversations on free speech: how do we uphold our community? Although, again, there is variety, the voices we often hear tend to show diverging priorities of values. We have colleagues who are concerned with inclusion, especially for those who have experienced exclusion. They prioritize this, and seek to uphold community by making ever more expansive and embracing, taking risks to do so in fighting to change a community structure. What a community to work towards, especially for me who learned, out self-preservation, to not seek such a community. We also have colleagues who are rather concerned with order and stability within a community, in keeping it together. They prioritize this, seeking to uphold community through preservation of freedoms like that of speech, and extolling reason as sovereign over our interactions.

Indeed, the two types of colleagues I described are often seen as locked in mortal combat against each other. Our continuing debates over BIRT sometimes show this, as those concerned with order raise the alarm on the suppression of freedoms against those concerned with recognition of oppression and fighting it.  But we do need these voices. Our differences with respect to values do not create a zero-sum game. And it is safe to say both are concerned with how a community can be just, something we all should be concerned with.

Recognizing our values, however different they are in origin and fulfilment, would do us a lot of good. It does good especially in bringing me to this final musing, realizing my own values. If you happen to be alarmed about the erosion of our intellectual freedom and reason, I offer you this caveat to my favor: please take time to truly understand where your colleagues concerned with the effects of speech – especially hate speech – are coming from, on their terms. Understand their values – and find where they resonate. Don’t get me wrong, upholding community by preserving freedoms has as much place as upholding it by fighting for inclusion. But as arguments are made against the positions of colleagues who want to combat hate speech, we risk being hardened of heart. Addressing the question of how a community can be upheld and be just to its members is not merely in the domain of reason. It is also of that messy domain we live in as humans, capable of reason and emotion and more. And if the dismantling of some aspects of community is feared, may I remind everyone that communities are never immutable. So long as there is a positive vision towards a community we can work towards, why not? Even as I crave stability, I want to be in a community where I and others belong in. We all want a just community.

Just pay attention to your neighbor’s values. You’d be surprised by what you may share.

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